By KEITH TAYLOR, Kentucky Today
LEXINGTON — The last time Eastern Michigan visited Kroger Field, the Eagles took Kentucky down to the wire before the Wildcats escaped with a 24-20 triumph. Mark Stoops wants to avoid a repeat performance Saturday night.
“They gave us one heck of a game a couple of years ago, so we know they’re another good football team from the (Mid-American Conference) — very well-coached, and very similar in that way,” Stoops said. “Eastern beat Toledo a year ago. We know Toledo was a good team. So Eastern is very capable and very well-coached and again, played us to a four-point game two years ago, so we have to get back to work and focus on ourselves and attention to detail and get much better.”
In the last meeting between the two teams, Stoops said Eastern Michigan “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 (last week),” Stoops said.
Eddie Gran also recalled the last time the Eagles visited Lexington and agreed with Stoops’ assessment earlier this week.
“We got our tail kicked,” Gran said. “We absolutely got our tail kicked. We didn’t play well enough. It was awful.”
In that particular game, the Eagles collected five sacks and had 10 tackles for a loss a defensive effort that kept Kentucky’s offense off-balance.
“They got really good pressure on the quarterback, so we need to do a better job protecting our quarterback for sure,” Stoops said.
The Wildcats (1-0) opened the season with a 38-24 win over Toledo last week, while the Eagles needed a late rally to fend off Coastal Carolina and escaped with a 30-23 victory in their opener. Eastern Michigan quarterback Mike Glass completed 20-of-22 passes for 188 yards and three touchdowns last week and added a rushing touchdown.
Although his squad kept the score close against the Wildcats in 2017, Eastern Michigan coach Mike Creighton said his team faces a challenge in their second straight road game to open the season.
“I know in a game like this that the only way that we can give ourselves a chance is if we take care of the ball and take the ball away,” Creighton said. “We have to play smart, tough, disciplined football – that gives us a chance. We took the ball away four times this last week and had one costly turnover, but we have to be perfect in that way.”
Much like his counterpart, Stoops wants his team to get off to a fast start and avoid crucial mistakes. The Wildcats had four fumbles against the Rockets and lost two of them and Stoops wants the Wildcats to be “more efficient” on both sides of the football.
“Ball security is a pretty big issue,” he said. “(I) definitely want to see that cleaned up. But just more efficient. Actually, last week we were pretty efficient. We talk about first down efficiency generally, but I felt like a lot of our mistakes were on second down. Second down led to a little longer third downs than we would like — same on defense. We gave up a little bit of leakage on second down and made their third downs more manageable. (I would like to see) just overall execution.”
In terms of a faster finish, Stoops said doing the little things will prevent the Wildcats from emulating last week’s first-half performance against Toledo.
“If you do the little things right and generally big things will happen,” he said. “Offensively there were too many three-and-outs this past week. We had a lot of possessions. I think defensively we had three-and-out, three or less. But offensively we had too many. Generally if we do the little things right and get off to a good start, we can move the chains and then big things can happen.”
Game tracker: Eastern Michigan at Kentucky, 7:30 p.m., Saturday. TV/Radio: SEC Network (alternate), UK Sports Radio Network.
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Keith Taylor is sports editor for Kentucky Today. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter @keithtaylor21.