I’d like to take an initial dive into the 2020 schedule as we officially enter the offseason. Over the next couple of months, we will break down the Cats’ fall slate of games by quarters, or groups of four. The first opponent of the first quarter of the schedule are the Eastern Michigan Eagles.
UK defeated EMU 38-17 a year ago. However, it was against this opponent that Terry Wilson was injured and lost for the season. Kentucky went on to suffer three consecutive losses. Concerns about bowl eligibility surfaced. The Wildcats eventually went with Lynn Bowden at quarterback and the rest is history. If Wilson is healthy and full-go for the opener, I fully expect the senior quarterback and his running mates to seek revenge on September 5 in Kroger Field.
Eastern Michigan’s head coach Chris Creighton has experienced relative success by going 25-25 in the past four years. Under Creighton’s leadership, EMU is amid one of the best four-year stretches in program history that includes back-to-back bowl appearances for the first time since 1975. The Eagles return 6 starters on offense and 6 on defense and will be well-coached.
Offense is where EMU takes the hardest hit by losing the team’s leading passer, pass catcher, and two top rushers. Quarterback Mike Glass’ 2019 numbers were impressive: 3,169 passing yards, 24 TD’s, 11 INT’s. Glass also was the team’s second leading rusher after posting 428 yards and 8 touchdowns. The senior was a multi-year starter and a productive player. Unfortunately, he will be best remembered by his end of game punch in the Quick Lane Bowl.
Senior running back Shaq Vann led the team with 715 rush yards and 8 TD’s. The Eagles were paced in the reception column by fellow senior Anthony Jackson. Jackson accumulated 46 receptions, 732 yards, and 7 TDs. EMU racked up 405 yards-per-game and averaged 29 points in 2019. It rushed for 122 yards-per-game while throwing for 283. Eastern Michigan will have to construct a new depth chart and replace the majority of its offensive production prior to traveling to Lexington.
Defensively, Eastern Michigan deploys a 3-3-5 scheme with emphasis on forcing havoc. The Eagles lose its two top tacklers due to graduation: Mike linebacker Kobie Beltram (128 tackles, 7 tackles for loss, and 2 QB sacks) and Rover Vince Calhoun (108 tackles, 7 TFL, 2 QB sacks). It also loses Brody Hoying, longtime starting safety or “Dog” as the position is labelled in its defensive scheme. Hoying registered 4 interceptions and 4 tackles for loss a season ago. As a team, EMU allowed 30 points and 430 total yards-per-game (194 rushing, 236 passing). If statistical trends continue from 2019 to 2020, allowing nearly 200 rush yards per contest could spell significant trouble for the visitors.
Eastern Michigan finished the 2019 season with a 6-7 record. Its most impressive win came in a 34-29 victory over Illinois in Champaign. Its worst loss was a 42-16 drubbing by Central Michigan. Replacing its starting quarterback, team leaders in rush/pass yards, and two top tacklers could present a tremendous challenge for Coach Chris Creighton. 2020 has all the ingredients for a potential rebuilding season.
This early fall matchup sets up very nicely for Kentucky. The Wildcats will enjoy a substantial advantage in momentum and personnel. It could also mean that the Big Blue Nation may get an early look at backups and true freshmen in a lopsided affair. The Wildcats will begin a new season fresh off four consecutive wins including a 37-30 Belk Bowl victory over Virginia Tech. The Cats’ opener could present a unique test in how it handles prosperity and manages high expectations.