John Clay

‘We got our tail kicked.’ UK’s coaches won’t let offensive line forget EMU’s last visit.

Kentucky’s last meeting with Eastern Michigan: We got our tail kicked

Kentucky football offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talks about the last time UK played Eastern Michigan. The Wildcats held on for a 24-20 win in 2017. The two teams meet again Saturday at Kroger Field.
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Kentucky football offensive coordinator Eddie Gran talks about the last time UK played Eastern Michigan. The Wildcats held on for a 24-20 win in 2017. The two teams meet again Saturday at Kroger Field.

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In sports, it’s normally what have you done for me lately?

Unless you’re a member of Kentucky football’s offensive line.

In last Saturday’s 38-24 curtain-dropping win over Toledo, UK’s big guys up front could not have played much better when it comes to protecting the passer. Pro Football Focus, the Cincinnati-based analytics outfit that grades every play of every college game, ranked the Wildcats No. 3 nationally in pass protection behind only Rutgers (a 48-21 winner over UMass) and Temple (a 38-12 winner over Bucknell).

Instead of pats on the back, however, the O-line has been sequestered in the film room re-watching and re-watching UK’s 2017 game against Eastern Michigan.

“We got our tail kicked,” said UK offensive coordinator Eddie Gran on Tuesday. “We absolutely got our tail kicked.”

“They came in here and hit us in the mouth,” echoed offensive line coach John Schlarman.

The Cats escaped with a 24-20 win at Kroger Field that day, but the memory remains unpleasant. Kentucky was outgained 312-227. It rushed for just 53 yards, in large part because quarterback Stephen Johnson was sacked five times. In college football, unlike the NFL, sacks count as rushing yards. Were it not for the defense coming up with three turnovers, the Cats would have suffered the same fate as Purdue in 2018 and Rutgers in 2017, power-five conference schools who lost to the invaders from the MAC.

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Kentucky turned in one of last week’s top offensive line performances in the nation, according to Pro Football Focus. Ken Weaver

“They are a well-coached football team,” Mark Stoops said Monday of the team from Ypsilanti.

The EMU defensive line is not quite the same as two years ago. Gone are Maxx Crosby and Jeremiah Harris, a pair of excellent pass rushers. Crosby was a fourth-round pick of the Oakland Raiders and a star on HBO’s Hard Knocks though a broken hand will delay his NFL debut. As reinforcements, head coach Chris Creighton has brought in five junior-college transfers.

And last Saturday, the defense had much to do with EMU’s 30-23 opening-week win at Coastal Carolina. While quarterback Mike Glass III was completing 20 of 22 passes on offense, the Eagles’ secondary was picking off four CCU passes, including the one on the final drive to seal the win.

But back to the Kentucky offensive line. And that game two years ago. The game UK’s coaches are making sure the Cats have not forgotten.

“It was awful,” Gran said. “And the answer is yes they have watched (the tape) and yes they are seeing it.”

Schlarman has been around UK a long time, both as a player and a coach. In his latter capacity, not sure he was any more disappointed, frustrated and upset with his unit’s performance than on Sept. 30, 2017.

“They outplayed us that day,” said Schlarman on Tuesday. “There’s no excuses. You can say whatever you want, but they came in here and played more physical and strained harder than we did.”

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“That’s one game that sort of upset me,” junior offensive tackle Landon Young said Tuesday. “I know I had a really rough game that year. Especially not being able to play last year (because of a torn ACL), this is my chance to come back and show them how much better of a player I am.”

The O-line showed most of its stuff last week. Quarterback Terry Wilson took the blame for the one sack. Besides starters Young, Logan Stenberg, Drake Jackson, Luke Fortner and Darrin Kinnard, reserves Mason Wolfe and Naasir Watkins played well, said Schlarman.

That was last Saturday, however. On to a new Saturday and an old memory.

“We know they’re going to come in here and play hard and that’s fine,” Schlarman said. “But let’s make sure we play what our standard is on the offensive line at Kentucky. And we’ll see what happens.”

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Kentucky quarterback Stephen Johnson was sacked five times when the Wildcats narrowly escaped with a 24-20 win over Eastern Michigan in 2017 at Kroger Field. Mark Mahan

Next game

Eastern Michigan at Kentucky

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday

TV: SEC Network alternate channel

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