After going with both freshman Morgan Newton and junior Will Fidler during the Auburn and Louisiana-Monroe games, the coaching staff went with Newton the whole way last week against Mississippi State. Though Newton has shown flashes, he's struggled to find consistency in the passing game. EKU has also gone with a freshman quarterback, although T.J. Pryor is a redshirt whose five games of starting experience are two more than Newton's. Pryor has posted decent numbers with 1,590 passing yards and four touchdowns.
The Cats will have to make do without Derrick Locke (left knee) this week. UK still has plenty of options at tailback: senior Alfonso Smith, junior Moncell Allen, redshirt freshman CoShik Williams and true freshman Donald Russell. Eastern hasn't been great running the ball, but tailback C.J. Walker is averaging 65 yards a game and has hit the end zone seven times.
Randall Cobb was one of the most productive receivers in the Southeastern Conference early in the year. But since quarterback Mike Hartline went down, UK has been ineffective in the passing game. Cobb has been asked to multi-task more, which has hampered his receiving numbers. He hasn't caught a touchdown pass since the South Carolina game. Freshman LaRod King and junior-college transfer Chris Matthews, two big targets, have shown signs of coming on. The Colonels' top receiver is senior Garnett Phelps, a nephew of former Kentucky star linebacker Wilbur Hackett Jr. Phelps has 48 catches for 610 yards and two touchdowns.
The Kentucky offensive line had perhaps its worst game of the season in pass protection against Mississippi State, giving up three sacks. Still, UK ranks fifth in the SEC in rushing offense and fourth in sacks allowed. The EKU front five hasn't been overwhelming. The Colonels average just 3.3 yards a carry and give up nearly three sacks a game.
The Wildcats' defensive front is still smarting from being plowed over by the Mississippi State offensive line and tailback Anthony Dixon. Eastern's front four, meanwhile, has wreaked havoc all season, producing 27 tackles for loss. Tackles Andrew Soucy (9.5 tackles for loss) and Emory Attig (7.5 tackles for loss) have been the biggest play makers. Kentucky still has an overall talent edge here, but it's not as big as you'd expect from an SEC school competing against a Football Championship Subdivision program.
Kentucky hopes middle linebacker Micah Johnson is healthier this week after being slowed by a strained knee against Mississippi State. Sam Maxwell continues to be a playmaker — he grabbed an interception in the end zone last week. Eastern's linebackers are led by Jordan Dalrymple and Antonio Fredrick, who have combined for 110 tackles and 13.5 tackles for loss.
The Kentucky defensive backfield gets a big boost with the return of senior cornerback Trevard Lindley, who's been out with an ankle injury. The Wildcats now have a solid three-corner rotation in Lindley, Paul Warford and Randall Burden, who played well while Lindley was out.
UK will have to be wary of EKU corner Jeremy Caldwell, who ranks first in the FCS in interceptions with seven. Caldwell had two picks in Eastern's 19-13 season-opening loss to Indiana.
The Kentucky special teams have taken a beating all season, but they were the one unit that gave the Cats a chance to win last week thanks to some big returns by Cobb. Eastern's special teams are struggling. Kicker Logan O'Donnell is just 6-for-13 on field goals and averages only 38 yards a punt, and there hasn't been much sizzle in the return game.