If Kentucky football coach Mark Stoops had his way, his Wildcats players would not even look at the score of Eastern Kentucky’s season-opening game against Cincinnati.
The Colonels were blown out 66-13 in Scott Satterfield’s first game as Cincinnati coach. It was EKU’s most lopsided loss since 2013.
“I know they didn’t get off to the start that they wanted to this past week,” Stoops said. “There were a variety of reasons for that, mainly they got down so quick and got out of the game they typically play, but they generally play everybody very good. They had a heck of a year a year ago.”
Keeping Kentucky players motivated to face an FCS opponent coming off a 53-point loss could be a difficult task for Stoops and his staff, but recent history in the UK-EKU series suggests a much closer game could be coming Saturday.
UK is 5-0 all-time against EKU, but the two meetings between the program in the Stoops era were decided by a total of 18 points.
Kentucky has won the seven FCS games against teams other than EKU in the Stoops era by an average of 33.1 points per game. It has beaten EKU in two meetings during that span by an average of nine points per game with overtime needed for one of those victories.
With EKU head coach Walt Wells, quarterbacks coach Maxwell Smith and tight ends coach C.J. Conrad having all worked for Stoops at UK, there is no lack of familiarity with the UK program in the EKU locker room. Many of the EKU players played with and against some of UK’s biggest stars in high school too.
“I know them and the competitive nature of their staff and their team and their players, and they probably were not real pleased with the way they played in the opener at times,” Stoops said. “I’m sure they are going to want to come in here and improve like we want to improve and play extremely hard and play very well in their home state, right down the road from them. We’re looking forward to that. We know it will be a great challenge.”
Here is a reminder of what happened the last two times UK and EKU met.
2015: Kentucky 34, Eastern Kentucky 27 (OT)
UK looked on the verge of its first loss to an FCS opponent when the Colonels took a 27-13 lead with 7:39 left in the game, but wide receiver Dorian Baker willed the Wildcats to the comeback win with a stellar showing in the fourth quarter and overtime. Baker finished the game with eight catches for 86 yards and two touchdowns. Five of his catches came after the EKU touchdown with 7:39 remaining in regulation. He sent the game to overtime with a touchdown catch on a fourth-and-3 play with 57 seconds left in regulation. Baker caught all three Patrick Towles passes on UK’s overtime drive, running through multiple defenders to score the game-winning touchdown.
Baker’s standout performance came eight months after he and two UK teammates were questioned by Richmond Police regarding a January bar fight that sent an EKU offensive lineman to the hospital.
2017: Kentucky 27, Eastern Kentucky 16
EKU led 13-10 at halftime and 16-10 with four minutes left in the third quarter of its second meeting with UK in the Stoops era after the Wildcats’ plan to rotate quarterbacks Stephen Johnson and Drew Barker backfired early. Benny Snell gave UK its first lead of the game with a 25-yard touchdown run with 2:57 left in the third quarter, and Johnson provided some breathing room with a 21-yard touchdown run with 10:09 left in the game. Austin MacGinnis sealed the win with a 39-yard field goal with 23 seconds left.
“We knew all week that it would be a tough game,” Stoops said after the win. “A lot of people have their own opinions, but we watched them last week versus Western (Kentucky). … I believe our players knew it was a good football team, that it would be a tough, hard-fought game. It was.”