Neither Eastern Michigan nor Kentucky had a particularly easy time getting through their respective season openers on Saturday, but both came away with a win to get the season started on the right foot. Now, they’ll meet in a non-conference matchup in Week 2 in advance of the rapidly approaching conference slate — which, for Kentucky, begins the very next week.
The Eagles opened the season on the road in Conway, S.C., against Coastal Carolina, and the Chanticleers stormed out of the gates to take a 10-0 lead after a quarter of play. After a low-scoring second-quarter, Eastern Michigan used a 16-point third quarter to surge ahead and lead for the first time, before hanging on to win by a touchdown.
Kentucky set a high bar for itself in 2018 when it finished the season with a 10-3 record, and the Wildcats picked up right where they left off in their season opener against Toledo. Just like Eastern Michigan, Kentucky fell behind early before scoring twice to even the game at 14 entering halftime. A 24-point second half was more than enough as the Wildcats finished off a 38-24 win against the Rockets, who are in the same division (MAC West) as EMU.
Eastern Michigan at Kentucky
Kickoff: Saturday, Sept. 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET
TV: SEC Network
Spread: Kentucky -14.5
When Eastern Michigan Has the Ball
Quarterback Mike Glass was virtually unstoppable on Saturday. The Eagles' signal-caller completed all 11 of his passes in the first half and accounted for more total touchdowns (four) than incompletions (two) during a 20-for-22 effort. Glass threw for 188 yards and ran for 11 more, with three of his four touchdowns coming through the air.
Though he was unable to find the end zone, Shaq Vann handled the majority of work on the ground, rushing 22 times for 108 yards and adding 13 yards on two catches. The distribution on the receiving end was much more spread out, however, as Glass connected with eight different targets in the opener. Dylan Drummond, Matthew Sexton and Quian Williams were the primary beneficiaries, as the three combined for 11 receptions and 142 yards. Drummond hauled in a pair of touchdowns, and Williams — despite catching just two passes — grabbed the other touchdown.
The Wildcats were active defensively, with DeAndre Square posting a team-high 11 tackles — including 1.5 tackles for a loss — and grabbing Kentucky’s only interception. Joshua Paschal, Calvin Taylor, T.J. Carter and Jamar Watson all contributed sacks as well, proving just how many ways Kentucky can get pressure on the opposing backfield.
When Kentucky Has the Ball
Terry Wilson did exactly what he needed to in the Wildcats’ opener, going 19-for-26 passing for 246 yards and a pair of touchdown strikes, one each to Bryce Oliver and Josh Ali. In addition to not turning the ball over, Wilson swung the momentum of the game by engineering three consecutive scoring drives to turn a seven-point deficit into a 10-point lead in a span of just under 15 minutes of game time. While his numbers might not be among the nation’s best, his performance on Saturday showed a glimpse of the improvement that many in Big Blue Nation have hoped for.
The touchdown receptions by Oliver and Ali marked their only receptions of the game, but Wilson — like Glass — did a great job of spreading the ball around. He also found eight different receivers, led by Lynn Bowden’s six catches for 77 yards. In the running game, Asim Rose — 16 carries for 64 yards and a touchdown — garnered most of the carries, but it was redshirt freshman Kavosiey Smoke who led the way in yards with 78 and a touchdown. Kentucky’s ability to pair the receiving skills of Bowden with the two-headed threat of Rose and Smoke in the backfield will pose a serious test for the Eastern Michigan secondary.
Kobie Beltram and Terry Myrick led the way defensively for the Eagles with 12 and 11 tackles, respectively. Turan Rush posted the Eagles’ only sack in the win, while Kevin McGill, Brody Hoying, Clay Holford and Blake Bogan all tallied interceptions of Coastal quarterback Fred Payton. After such a strong opener, perhaps there will be some opportunities for this unit to make some opportunistic plays and force Wilson into some poor decisions.
Despite a slow start, Eastern Michigan showed last weekend that it can put up points and come back from early deficits. But against a team like Kentucky, which can rely on a number of different contributors on both sides of the ball, the Eagles’ offense will need to make plays in both halves, not just the second.
Prediction: Kentucky 35, Eastern Michigan 24
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and a 2019 graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and worked for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.