Kentucky Football: Pros and Cons to Win over Eastern Michigan University

LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 30: Brogan Roback #4 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles is sacked by Joshua Paschal #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images)
LEXINGTON, KY - SEPTEMBER 30: Brogan Roback #4 of the Eastern Michigan Eagles is sacked by Joshua Paschal #4 of the Kentucky Wildcats at Commonwealth Stadium on September 30, 2017 in Lexington, Kentucky. (Photo by Michael Hickey/Getty Images) /

Kentucky football is now 4-1 on the season after defeating Eastern Michigan. It was a rough outing for two out of three phases of the game.

The Wildcats went into Saturday’s game after we had heard good practice reports from coaches all week. The Kentucky football team responded to the Florida loss with plenty of urgency and energy and the coaches were pleased.

The game against the Eagles ended up being a hard fought defensive effort, with both sides fighting for every yard. The Eagles ended up out gaining the Wildcats 312-228 and it was another difficult display for Wildcat fans to watch.

Still, Kentucky emerged with the win and we can somewhat merrily dive into this week’s pros and cons.

Pro: Kentucky’s front seven got its mojo back

As a team, Eastern Michigan rushed for only 13 yards, with an average of .5 yards per attempt. If you peeked at the Eagles’ seasons stats prior to kickoff, you knew that they weren’t a great running team to begin with. Still, they continued with a balanced ratio of run-to-pass and abandoned the ground game only on their last possession.

The front seven was in the backfield all day with 7 TFLs, 5 QB sacks, and 3 QB hurries. They consistently clogged up running lanes and gave opposing RB Ian Eriksen absolutely no space.

On Sunday morning, if you looked at national rankings for rush defense, you would have seen Kentucky at 3rd. Who are the top two? Michigan and Alabama.

That’s some pretty good company.


Con: We can’t stop the short pass

While the run defense has been great, the yards given up through the air have been hard to swallow. Every team, it seems, plans to throw short to intermediate passes, and every week, the defensive play calling gives them up. QB Brogan Roback ended the evening with 256 yards through the air, averaging 6 yards per attempt, and a 60% completion percentage.

On the bright side, he was limited to one TD and threw two picks, which contributed to Kentucky sitting at 28th in scoring defense. Still, the game was closer than anyone would have liked and giving up those quick strikes had a lot to do with it.

After five games, fans are collectively asking, “Why?” Kentucky has a very talented secondary with too much depth to to allow the the dink and dunk strategy. In contrast to the run defense, UK’s pass defense ranks 111th in the country.

Pro: Special Teams is must watch

Aussie Matt Panton continues to flip the field and averaged 47.3 yards per punt with a long of 71 against E. Michigan. Once again, the coaches look like geniuses for going after Panton this past offseason.

Long snapper Tristan Yeoman got his chance to shine, too. In an incredible display of athleticism and awareness, he ran down the field to tackle a punt returner, but ended up recovering the muffed punt instead.

SEC Special Teams Player of the Week went to true freshman Josh Paschal. Coordinator Dean Hood finally let him go after the punter after giving the Eagles space all afternoon. It paid off as Paschal’s tremendous effort set up a Bennie Snell Jr. touchdown on the very next play.

Con: Offensive line is bad. Really bad

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Player for player, Kentucky boasted a more talented offensive line opposite to E. Michigan’s defensive line. Still, the Eagles got to Stephen Johnson five times and had 10 TFLs. The Wildcats were only able to generate 53 yards on the ground. That performance is unacceptable, even against a good MAC team.

In close games, the Wildcats have to be able to make first downs and run out the clock. Nothing suggests that this year’s team is capable of doing so, which makes fans very nervous.

Let’s leave this section with two silver linings. First, Drake Jackson was inserted and didn’t have a bad snap. Second, out of Kentucky’s remaining opponents, only Louisville and Georgia rank higher in rush defense than Eastern Michigan.

Pro: Kentucky is +7 in turnover margin

In 2016, Kentucky was tied for 8th-worst in the country in turnover margin (-7), yet still found ways to win games. This season, we are seeing a completely different beast. UK is tied for 11th in turnover margin, at +7.

The Wildcats have lost only three fumbles and Stephen Johnson has taken care of the ball, throwing a single INT. Defensively, the Wildcats have been opportunistic with 5 fumble recoveries and 6 INTs.

Although points don’t always follow, getting the defense off the field is always good for the team.

Con: Injury report

CJ Conrad was a little hampered going into Saturday and was slightly held back. Stephen Johnson was limited in practice on Monday, and Jordan Jones will, once again, be held out this week.

Missouri is coming off a bye and Kentucky will need as many of its players available as possible. Offensively, an injury here or there could set that side of the ball back. Kentucky is perilously thin at running back and the O-line is already struggling.

The upside is that Missouri’s defense is bad. The Tigers have been giving up over 400 yards a game, so the Wildcats have a lucky break in the schedule before they take a week off.

Pro: Kentucky is 4-1

Kentucky’s record is 4-1.

Let me repeat: Kentucky’s record is 4-1. Every Kentucky football fan would have taken this record if guaranteed in the preseason. Unfortunately, the struggles on offense have overshadowed a lot of positive vibes.

Next: Week 5 SEC Picks

Saturday should result in a win and can solidify Kentucky’s standing in the East race. If Kentucky wins this one, it will go a long way in alleviating the fanbase’s angst about this team.