After a full week of playing the "what if" game after the heartbreaking loss to Florida, it's time for the Kentucky Wildcats football team to take out some aggression against the Eastern Michigan Eagles of the MAC.
The Eagles (2-1) are coming off a heartbreaking loss of their own, losing to Ohio 27-20 in overtime last week. The Eagles already own one team over a Power 5 team this season, if you can count Rutgers of the Big 10 a Power 5 team.
This is the first time that Eastern Michigan has faced a SEC team since they were pummeled by a pretty bad Missouri team 61-21 last year.
You would think that for Kentucky, this is a good time to get on the field and hit someone and start to put the frustration of last week behind them. The real fear is that Kentucky has been flat against teams that they are obviously better than this year. Will that trend continue? Or will the Wildcats learn their lessons from the Florida game and move forward?
It's time to find out. Let's meet the Eagles.
The Eagles have one of the top quarterbacks in the MAC in the form of Brogan Roback and he is having another solid year. He has completed 60.5% of his passes for 798 yards and he has two touchdowns versus two interceptions. He sees the field well and distributes the ball evenly and is effective on both the short and the long pass. He is not a rushing quarterback, but he does a great job of getting rid of the ball and he rarely takes a sack. He had only been sacked 22 times in the previous two seasons.
The ground game was supposed to be a strength heading into the season, but this unit has struggled so far, averaging just 95 yards a game and 2.8 yards a carry. Shaq Vann is a solid back and has 186 yards on the carry and 3.8 yards a carry. Breck Turner and Ian Ericksen have combined for just 27 carries and they both average 3.7 yards a carry and Ericksen has the only three rushing touchdowns for the Eagles.
The main culprit here is not with the stable of running backs, which have performed well in the past, but with the offensive line. This unit lost three players to graduation and they are still struggling to find the right pieces on the line.
The Eagles have a couple of proven targets for Roback in Sergio Bailey II and Antoine Porter. Bailey has 17 catches for 267 yards and a touchdown and averages 15.7 a catch and he has a touchdown. Porter averages 12.6 on 14 catches and he has the other touchdown. Matthew Sexton and John Niupalau average 14.4 and 15.8 yards a catch and the entire receiving corps average almost 12 yards a catch, which is impressive.
For the most part, the Eastern Michigan defense is much improved over last season. They allow just 15.67 points a game, 155 yards a game rushing and just 169.97 through the air. Of course, those opponents were Charlotte, Rutgers, and Ohio. They have not faced a team with an offense like Kentucky, so this will be their biggest test by far.
The Eagles lost a big part of their pass rush when Pat O’Connor graduated but the Eagles have done a decent job of getting after the quarterback so far with seven sacks on the year. Jeremiah Harris has 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss and Maxx Crosby has a sack and 2.5 tackles for a loss. Luke Maclean also has 1.5 sacks and does a good job at breaking up passes.
LB Jason Beck is the heart and soul of the linebacking corps with 15 interceptions and an interception. He also seems to be in the middle of the action whether it is a pass or a run play. Kyle Rachwal has 13 tackles and 1.5 sack. Ike Spearman is healthy and has a good nose for the ball.
DB Brody Hoying leads the team with 21 tackles and he has 2 interceptions and has forced 2 fumbles. Vince Calhoun is a disruptive defender and he has 13 tackles. Justin Moody also has an interception to go with 11 tackles. He has gradually working his way back from an injury but Anthony Brown is another established playmaker in this secondary.
WHAT WILL HAPPEN?
Even though Eastern Michigan was a bowl team last year, this is still a game that Kentucky should win and win rather easily. I know that you can say that about Southern Mississippi and Eastern Kentucky as well, but is one of those games that are on the schedule solely for the win.
Granted, when this game was scheduled, the Eagles were probably in the midst of the 3-21 2014 and 2015 seasons. There is still no excuse for this to be a game for much more than a half in a worst-case scenario.
That said, this type of game has been a problem in the Stoops era as the team seems to lose its intensity for the less than prime time matchups when the stadium is half full at best. This will be another of those games and the apathy is something that Kentucky has to fight through.
Even with the loss last week, this is still a far stretch from the “same old Kentucky” football teams of the past. Look for the Wildcats to come out determined and with a purpose and to put the Eagles away early.
Let’s call it 42-14 for the Wildcats and a chance for Drew Barker, and perhaps Gunnar Hoak to see some reps. It’s a good chance to get some players a rest and some young players some action before the Cats get into the heart of the SEC schedule.