With a pair of SEC games on the horizon, Kentucky must use Saturday’s home opener against FCS member Eastern Kentucky to get its offense on track. The Wildcats mustered a paltry 254 yards and 17 points on offense in their opening win against Southern Mississippi, but a date with the Colonels may be just what they need to make it better.
Most troubling for Kentucky was the running game, which after featuring two 1,000-yard rushers last season, churned out 2.2 yards per carry against Southern Miss with most of the production coming from Benny Snell, Jr., who finished with 20 carries and 67 yards. “We know there’s a lot of work to do, but it’s a lot better going back to work after a victory,” coach Mark Stoops told the media. “There are things that we can get corrected.” The passing game, while hardly electric, showed signs of life, particularly in the first half when senior quarterback Stephen Johnson threw for one score and ran for another while relying on junior tight end C.J. Conrad. The Colonels of the Ohio Valley Conference had their own problems on the ground, gaining 25 yards on 22 carries in an opening loss to FBS squad Western Kentucky.
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ABOUT EASTERN KENTUCKY (0-1): Tim Boyle had a promising debut of his own for the Colonels, becoming the first quarterback in school history to throw for 300 yards in his first game. The redshirt senior, who recorded one touchdown pass and five interceptions while playing sparingly in three seasons at Connecticut, threw for two scores and zero picks in the opener. Senior Ryan Markush was on the receiving end of both touchdowns and finished with a career-high 107 yards on seven catches and Neiko Creamer, Dan Paul and LJ Scott each caught at least five balls for the Colonels, who have reached the FCS playoffs 21 times.
ABOUT KENTUCKY (1-0): Johnson and Conrad, who came into this season with 34 career receptions and five touchdowns, put a lot of time in during the summer to form the connection that was on display against Southern Miss. Conrad led all receivers with three catches for 97 yards and a touchdown and will likely become the focal point of opposing defenses given the struggles of the wide receivers, who combined for eight catches and 79 yards. Lynn Bowden, a four-star recruit and one of the country’s top-rated athletes coming out of high school, played only a few snaps and finished without a reception for the Wildcats.
1. Austin MacGinnis, who converted his 51st career field goal against Southern Miss, needs 43 points to become Kentucky’s all-time leading scorer.
2. The Wildcats won all four prior meetings with the Colonels, but needed a 14-point comeback and overtime to win the most recent game in 2015.
3. Denzil Ware returned a fumble 20 yards for a touchdown, one of three fumble recoveries for the Wildcats against Southern Miss.
PREDICTION: Kentucky 27, Eastern Kentucky 10