By LARRY VAUGHT
The prevailing theory going into this season was that Toledo would be a difficult test for UK but Eastern Michigan would not be much more than a breather in week two to get Kentucky set up for a third week showdown with Florida.
However, here might be a few reasons to make you rethink that feeling:
— Eastern Michigan has 10 starters back from last season’s 7-6 team that BEAT Toledo during the season.
— Eastern Michigan lost to Georgia Southern 23-21 in the Camellia Bowl last year but pulled a 20-19 upset at Purdue.
— Two years ago UK needed an end zone interception by Mike Edwards to secure a 24-20 victory over Eastern Michigan. Josh Paschal blocked a punt to set up Benny Snell’s game-winning touchdown run in the fourth quarter.
Kentucky was coming off an emotional 28-27 loss to Florida when it blew a 28-13 lead (remember that was the game where Kentucky not once, but twice, failed to cover a Florida receiver on a touchdown pass).
The Cats gave up five quarterback sacks and 10 tackles for loss against Eastern Michigan and could not block Jeremiah Harris, who had 3.5 tackles for loss himself.
Kentucky coach Mark Stoops said Monday that offensive line coach John Schlarman had already reminded his players about that game where UK rushed for only 53 yards on 37 attempts.
“Coach Schlarman was definitely talking about that already this morning and yesterday. So he’ll get their attention, he’ll get them right and they will be ready to play,” Stoops said.
Eastern Michigan opened its season with 30-23 win over Coastal Carolina where quarterback Mike Glass completed 20 of 22 passes for 188 yards and three scores. The Eastern Michigan defense intercepted four passes.
Stoops was not overly pleased with his team’s opening 38-24 win over Toledo but at least UK didn’t lose in upsets like Tennessee, South Carolina and Missouri all did. Stoops does point out the need to be ready to play but spends more time stressing what his team can clean up.
“I point out a lot of things to them every week, but part of it is just football IQ, because I don’t think they watch as much as we all did. So I’ll definitely point out some plays that happened throughout this past week that myself and our coaches grab and want to show them and also just talk about that, if you’re not prepared to play,” Stoops said.
“And that is something that I was very pleased with our team. I liked the way they were going about their business. It doesn’t mean we were perfect. And I also noticed it last week, come maybe Wednesday, Thursday, I started noticing, thinking about it, because our guys don’t want to let their teammates down. They don’t want to let their coaches down.
“Some guys that maybe hadn’t played very much start getting a little tight and a little bit wide eyed. And not because they’re scared, it’s just because they don’t want to let people down. And that’s what I talked about is that’s why you have a team. And there’s strengths and weaknesses and there’s going to be one group or one side of the ball pick the other one up at times and I was proud of our team for doing that.”
Stoops knows what happens in 2017 won’t mean much when the teams play again Saturday in a game that was originally supposed to be played at Eastern Michigan before Eastern Michigan agreed to take $800,000 to move the game to Lexington.
“I remember this, that they did a nice job of just staying patient and nickel and dime’ing us and being efficient, trying to stay ahead of the chains, much like Toledo did this past week early on. That’s why Toledo was effective. And they were in third and manageable. And when they got in third and long, they didn’t have as much success and we had more success and that’s what we’re looking for,” Stoops said.
“But Eastern Michigan does a really nice job of staying ahead of the chains. They’re a good, physical football team that plays the game the right way and they like to stay efficient. So it will be another challenge that way.”
Kentucky is now a 14.5 point favorite — about the same spread it had over Toledo at this time a week ago.