Statistically, Kentucky enters Saturday's game bruised and battered after getting run over by Anthony Dixon and the Mississippi State Bulldogs. Dixon and Co. ran for 348 yards in MSU's 31-24 victory over UK, dropping the Cats to last in the Southeastern Conference in rush defense. UK is allowing 195.9 yards per game on the ground.
The men up front in the blue and white will have their hands full this week against a team that's starting to find its groove in the running game.
Eastern Kentucky, which runs a spread-style offense, has not put up huge numbers with its rushing attack – the Colonels average 3.3 yards per carry and rank 70th in the Football Championship Subdivision with 129.4 yards per game – but the EKU ground game turned a corner last week. Led by senior C.J. Walker's 81 yards, the Colonels rushed for a season-high 183 yards in the win over Southeast Missouri.
Redshirt freshman quarterback T.J. Pryor has blossomed in his first year as the EKU starter. He's completing more than 63 percent of his passes and is averaging just under 200 yards a game. The majority of his throws have gone Garnett Phelps' way. The senior wide out from Ballard High School in Louisville has caught 48 balls for 610 yards and two touchdowns.
Defensively, EKU is strong up front. Three Colonels – two defensive linemen and a linebacker – have 7.5 tackles for loss or more, and a whopping 18 players have recorded stops in the backfield. UK's offensive line has been one of the biggest surprises this year, giving up just 1.25 sacks per game, but it'll have its hands full this week with a defense that ranks ninth in the FCS in tackles for loss.
A porous UK run defense overshadowed a gutsy performance by true freshman Morgan Newton last week. Making just his third career start, Newton put together the best game of his young career. Newton completed 11-of-18 passes for 119 yards, converting several key third downs with his mobility and strong arm. He also added 39 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries.
Should Newton choose to air out this week, he'll have to keep his eyes on defensive back Jeremy Caldwell, who has already picked off seven passes this year.
UK will be without its top running attack, as tailback Derrick Locke (597 yards and four touchdowns) recovers from torn scar tissue in his surgically repaired knee. The good news is the Cats will welcome back the services of All-SEC cornerback Trevard Lindley, who has missed the last four-plus games with a high ankle sprain.
Head coach Rich Brooks warned his team earlier in the week about how good EKU is and cautioned his players from looking past the Colonels. As Brooks pointed out, EKU is about three plays away from being undefeated.
“I'm sure that they are looking forward to this opportunity to come into Commonwealth Stadium and make their year, if you will, make their decade,” Brooks said. “But certainly this is a dangerous game for us and we need to play a lot more focused and better than we did a week ago.”