How Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky match up for Saturday’s football game at Commonwealth Stadium:
After a widely panned performance in a loss to Florida, Kentucky’s Patrick Towles responded with one of his best games as a Wildcat in UK’s 21-13 win over No. 25 Missouri. The 6-foot-5, 240-pound junior completed 22 of 27 passes for 247 yards and two TDs and also ran for a score. Mark Stoops said Monday he hopes to get redshirt freshman Drew Barker his first college action against EKU. Eastern’s Bennie Coney, a 6-2, 211-pound junior transfer from Cincinnati, hit 28 of 35 passes for 261 yards and a TD in last week’s blowout of Austin Peay. He was only 5-for-19 in EKU’s 35-0 loss at North Carolina State. Backup Kyle Romano (13-for-16 passing) has played in all three games.
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RUNNING BACKSJunior Jojo Kemp was a hero of UK’s victory over Mizzou, running for 66 yards, all in the second half. Boom Williams started Kentucky’s first three games but did not practice Tuesday amidst what Mark Stoops characterized as “personal issues.” Williams was back at practice Wednesday. Eastern’s Dy’Shawn Mobley, a former UK player, was 2014 OVC Offensive Player of the Year after running for 1,491 yards and 20 TDs. Battling the lingering impact of a hamstring injury, Mobley has gained only 38 yards so far in 2015 and missed last week’s game. True freshman Ethan Thomas, Florida transfer Adam Lane and ex-Bourbon County star Kentayvus Hopkins have picked up the slack for Mobley.
UK sophomores Garrett Johnson (six catches for 119 yards vs. Missouri) and Dorian Baker (five receptions for 51 yards and a TD) came up big against Missouri. They seem to be emerging as Kentucky’s “go-to” receivers. Eastern has impressive length at wideout. Devin Borders, a 6-6 junior, caught nine passes against Austin Peay. Jeff Glover, a 6-5 senior, has nine catches with two touchdowns.
After being praised for his blocking early, Kentucky freshman C.J. Conrad got to show his pass-catching skills against Missouri. The 6-5, 245-pound product of LaGrange, Ohio, caught his first three career passes and initial college TD. Eastern’s Ben Madon moved from wide receiver in the spring. The 6-5, 252-pound senior transfer from Lindsey Wilson has five catches for 70 yards.
Filling in at left tackle for an injured Jordan Swindle, Kentucky sophomore Cole Mosier was given ample credit for mostly neutralizing Missouri standout end Charles Harris. Unless Swindle returns, UK will start a junior (center Jon Toth) and four redshirt sophomores. EKU’s offensive front is anchored by left tackle Brett Eyckmans. The 6-5, 301-pounder is a three-year starter who was All-OVC First Team in 2014.
Filling in at defensive tackle for an injured Regie Meant, Kentucky senior Cory “C.J.” Johnson earned SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after recording 11 tackles against Missouri. EKU end Noah Spence is a former Ohio State standout who had eight sacks and 14.5 tackles for loss for the Buckeyes in 2013. After sitting out last season at OSU due to a suspension, Spence is off to a roaring start at EKU with 15 tackles, five TFL, three sacks and three QB hurries.
UK’s expected starters in the pre-season — weakside linebacker Ryan Flannigan, middle linebacker Josh Forrest, strongside LB Jason Hatcher — played together for the first time against Missouri and combined for 25 tackles. Eastern MLB D’Vonta Derricott, a transfer from Kansas State, leads the Colonels with 18 tackles.
Kentucky true freshman Chris Westry had five tackles and a key pass breakup against Missouri. His 6-4 height should come in handy against EKU’s tall receivers. Eastern cornerback Stanley Absanon was pre-season All-OVC. A former Arizona State signee, the 5-11, 177-pound senior has 11 tackles, three pass breakups, one TFL and one interception — which he returned 56 yards for a TD.
UK true freshman kickoff returner Sihiem King is up to fourth in the SEC (24.1 yards a return) after returns of 48 and 29 yards against Missouri. Punter Landon Foster had a solid game (42.8 yards average on five punts; two pinned inside 20) against Mizzou. Place-kicker Austin MacGinnis is 6-for-7 on field goals. EKU return specialist Stanley Absanon is a weapon on both punts (17.2 yards average) and kickoffs (27.2). Devin Borders, a 6-6 junior, is a prolific kick blocker with 12 blocks — seven field goals and five punts — in his career. Field-goal kicker Lucas Williams is a perfect 4-for-4 on the season, with a long of 42.
Advantage: Eastern Kentucky
Kentucky 38, Eastern Kentucky 13.