The Kentucky Wildcats are off to a 3-1 start on the season, and they are looking to extend that record to 4-1 after this weekend.
The Cats will be taking on Eastern Michigan this Saturday evening at Kroger Field. The game is heavily favored to go the Cats’ way, as they are a 14.5-point favorite over the Eagles. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 4:00 p.m. ET.
Games like this are usually one of my biggest worries of the year, and I feel like that is the case again this season. The Eagles are a good out-of-conference opponent. Eastern Michigan has a lot of weapons that no one is talking about.
Eastern completed the upset when they traveled to Rutgers and beat the Scarlet Knights 16-13 in New Jersey. The Eagles are trying to shock the world and leave the Commonwealth with a big win.
If the Cats are going to keep from being shocked by Eastern Michigan, here are the five keys.
1. Contain Sergio Bailey II
Bailey is a senior wide receiver who has had an incredible start to the year for the Eagles. Bailey has caught 17 passes for 267 yards and one touchdown. He had nine catches against Ohio last weekend and caught one touchdown pass as well.
Bailey is averaging 89.0 yards per game thus far into the season, and he had a good junior season in 2016, averaging 69 yards-per-game for the eagles. Chris Westry and Derrick Baity will have their hands full with Bailey this game, but if the Cats are going to keep from being upset, they have to keep him contained.
2. Put Pressure on Brogan Roback
Roback is definitely going to be drafted this year. Roback has thrown for over 6,500 yards in his career, while also throwing 40 touchdown passes. He averages 38 pass attempts per game.
Roback’s numbers aren’t spectacular this season, throwing only two touchdown passes and two interceptions. Roback has also passed for just 800 yards. The Cats D-Line is going to have to be big this weekend to slow him down.
3. The Center Position has to be better
Nothing against Bunchy Stallings and Nick Haynes, but wow. Last week against Florida was truly as bad as it can get.
This week offensive line coach John Schlarman has worked five people in at center to make sure that doesn’t happen again. He has worked Stallings, Haynes, Army All-American Drake Jackson, Mason Wolfe and even redshirt freshman guard Luke Fortner. Out of all these guys, surely Kentucky will improve.
4. Get four yards on first and second down
The Kentucky offense has not done a great job of converting on 3rd down this season, as they’ve converted at a rate of just 35 percent.
The running game is finally hitting its stride, with Snell and King both having a good season thus far. The key to converting on 3rd down is winning on 1st and 2nd down. If the offense can get 4 yards on 1st and 2nd down, then the 3rd down conversion rate would increase significantly.
5. Play with a chip on your shoulder
Last week, Kentucky lost their 31st straight game to the Florida, and honestly they should’ve won it. There were several things that could have went the other way, for instance, making sure that all receivers are covered… Making sure that if you call a timeout, you cover all receivers... And last of all, just fixing the snaps.
The Cats have had a very good season, and they want to keep that going. The coaches need to play to win rather than to play not to lose. Put the foot on the gas and go in this one. Play with a chip on their shoulder.
Now, I truly believe the Cats are going to get a big in this week, but what are the experts saying?
The Wildcats will bounce back and blow by the Eagles, although not enough to take the over. Sure, EMU beat Rutgers, but Rutgers stinks. And they’ve lost to Missouri (2016) by 40, LSU (2015) by 22, Florida and Michigan State (2014) by 65 and 59. Kentucky 35, Eastern Michigan 10
Joe Mussatto, SEC Country:
I think the line is right on the money, but I’ll pick Kentucky to come up just short of covering the spread. Eastern Michigan went on the road earlier this season and beat Rutgers, maybe the worst team in the Big Ten, but still a road win against a Power 5 team. I don’t think Kentucky is in danger of losing this game, but I wouldn’t be surprised if the Cats came out flat after last week’s Florida loss. There’s just not a lot to be excited about for this game. Kentucky 31, Eastern Michigan 17
SB Nation is projecting a 33-24 win by the Cats.
CBS Sports is picking the Cats to win and cover the spread:
As long as the Wildcats remember to cover wide receivers, they should have no issue with an Eagles team that -- despite 2-1 with wins over Charlotte and Rutgers -- is ranked 111th in the nation in scoring offense. Pick: Wildcats (-14.5)
Here is what Team Rankings and numberFire had to say (via ESPN):
My Prediction: Kentucky 38 Eastern Michigan 10
And finally, here’s a new hype video to get you fired up for today’s game: