Since this summer, UK vs. EKU has been an anticipated game for mostly the wrong reasons. However, tempers have since cooled. Kentucky’s 3-1 start has enhanced BBN expectation. Senseless retaliation is trumped by bowl aspirations. Both Mark Stoops and Dean Hood have pledged to squash pre- and during- game extracurricular activities. Finally, the actual football game is upon us.
Let’s take a look at the position-by-position advantages and breakdowns:
EKU employs the spread offense with multiple receivers. In appearance, it looks similar to Missouri. Former Georgetown star Dane Damron is the offensive coordinator.
Patrick Towles is coming off a career game. He passed, decided, and led the Cats to a 21-13 win over the SEC East’s defending champs. How his performance carries over will be interesting to watch. Last weekend could have been that breakthrough performance that set a new expectation norm for the Wildcat signal caller. Backup Drew Barker will play. I’m anxious to watch.
EKU is led by Cincinnati transfer Bennie Coney. Coming off an impressive 28-for-35, 261-yard performance against Austin Peay, Coney is that dreaded dual-threat quarterback that has traditionally given UK fits. However, this Wildcat defense has shown to adjust and has the speed to counter.
Running Back: Kentucky
Boom Williams’ status is uncertain. Moving on. Last Saturday, JoJo Kemp carried the offense and Tiger defenders on his back. Mikel Horton and Sihiem King will also get much-needed carries.
Former Wildcat and 2014 OVC Player of the Year Dy’Shawn Mobley is dealing with a lingering leg injury and is questionable for Saturday. EKU still has Bourbon County’s Kentayvus Hopkins, Florida transfer Adam Lane, and Ethan Thomas.
Offensive Line: Kentucky
Several Wildcat offensive linemen are healing up, but through strategic recruiting and player development, Coach John Schlarman has game-proven depth in the trenches. Coming off an impressive outing against the SEC’s top defense, expect sustained confidence and execution from the big guys up front.
EKU’s offensive line starters: Brett Eyckmans, Ryan Garretson, Colton Scurry, Josh Minor, and Justin Adekoya.
Wide Receiver: Kentucky
Skill is there. Speed and size accompany. Versus Missouri, production met potential. Saturday could bring on an onslaught of explosion plays. Wide receiver depth will get its chances as TV Williams, Thaddeus Snodgrass and others will see game action.
Eastern Kentucky receiver Jeff Glover is 6-5. His running mate Devin Borders, 6-6. That height can present problems. Colonels receiving leader is Joel Brown with 11 catches and one TD. Versatile Aarien Beasely is a dangerous threat at the slot. The 2015 National Guard Border Bowl MVP has impressed as a true freshman.
Fullback/Tight End: Kentucky
CJ Conrad and his three catches for 55 yards and a touchdown finally surfaced as an offensive weapon. Taco Meat Collins’ knockdown block against All-World linebacker Kentrell Brothers will be a highlight for the season.
Eastern tight end and Pineville native Ben Madon has five catches for 70 yards.
EKU runs a 3-4 defense with emphasis on defensive end Noah Spence’s pass rush and run game disruption.
Defensive Line: Kentucky
In the past eight quarters of football, CJ Johnson has willed his way into becoming unblockable. Farrington Huguennin has played virtually every snap of the season and done so consistently. Melvin Lewis did not see much action against Missouri due to scheme. As a whole, the Wildcat line has exceeded expectation. Reserves will play. Adrian Middleton, Courtney Miggins, and Matt Elam could see significant snaps.
Kentucky has seen its share of elite pass rushers. Saturday will feature yet another in Noah Spence. The Ohio State transfer was a five-star recruit that started 13 games for the Buckeyes before transferring to Eastern. Spence is EKU’s second-leading tackler and he has registered three sacks. In the Colonels’ last game, Spence had eight tackles, one sack, and two tackles for loss. Henderson County’s Avery Pitt has registered one sack.
Ryan Flannigan’s return changed defensive dynamic. Ryan is a “5-Yard Player.” Instead of making a tackle two yards downfield, Flannigan has the ability to turn that same play into a three-yard tackle for loss. Josh Forrest is adding dollars to his draft stock in each game he plays. Jason Hatcher and Denzil Ware are disruptive against both the run and pass. The foursome played lights out against Missouri.
Kansas State transfer linebacker Devonta Derricott leads the Colonels in tackles and is an active and aggressive football player. He’s joined by Newport Catholic’s Chris Kelley, Trey Thomas, and Marquise Piton.
AJ Stamps may not have the interception numbers most expected, but his steady play in the last line of defense allows DJ Eliot the leeway to call aggressive blitz packages. Joining him at safety is the ultra-improved Marcus McWilson. Chris Westry continues to grow and Cody Quinn has silenced critics.
EKU’s Tyrell Curry and Stanley Absannon lead the Colonel secondary. They’re joined by Deno Montgomery and Coby Grace. As a team, EKU has intercepted three passes on the season.
Special Teams: Kentucky
The coordinator-less Wildcat special team units have excelled. Now the SEC’s second-leader in kickoff coverage, the Cats are playing at a high level. Landon Foster needs to find his groove and punt returns have been shaky.
EKU’s Stanley Absannon averages 17.2 yards per punt return. Perspective, that number doubles UK in that department. He also runs back kickoffs and averages 27.2 yards per return. Kentucky will have to be aware of punt/kick placement as Absannon is a dangerous open field runner.
WHAT DOES ALL THIS MEAN?
UK has the talent advantage at each position group, but EKU has significant skill at certain positions. Elite defensive end Noah Spence is a future pro and will have to be accounted for during every offensive snap. The Cats should win, but will still need to play a clean and motivated game.
*Heartfelt prayers for the EKU Football program and the family of Joey Kraemer.