A lot went right for Eastern Kentucky in their season opening 29-10 win on the road at Robert Morris. The good:
- The new, up-tempo offense led to 97 offensive plays for the Colonels.
- EKU rushed for 427 yards—their most in a single game since 2001.
- The Colonels average 6.4 yards per play.
- The revamped Colonel defense held Robert Morris to only 28 net yards rushing, 250 total yard, and only 3.3 yards per play.
- On special teams pre-season All-OVC kicker Andrew Lloyd connected on all 3 of his field goals and produced touchbacks on all 7 of his kickoffs to win OVS Special Teams Player of the Week.
- Freshman punter Keith Wrzuszczak did an excellent job in his first collegiate game he averaged 38.8 yards on his 4 punts, landed 2 of them inside the 20 and allowed no returns.
In spite of the big road win to open the season there was a lot of room for improvement. The bad:
- New quarterback Bennie Coney appeared to still be learning the offense. He threw 3 interceptions. One was in the end zone on a nice play by a Colonial defender. The other 2 came when there appeared to be some confusion on the snap count and the ball wasn’t thrown close to a receiver. He did lead the Colonels on a couple of nice drives, however and showed flashes of why he won the summer quarterback competition with senior Jared McClain.
- Eastern also fumbled 4 times, losing one. The turnovers continued a trend from last season. The Colonels also racked up the penalty yardage. EKU was flagged 11 times for 90 yards. Two of those flags took touchdowns off the board.
That being said any time you can go on the road and come back with a 19 point win against an FCS opponent you can’t be too upset. Especially given that most of the mistakes looked to be things that can be corrected.
The mistakes will need to be corrected this week when the Colonels again hit the road. This time they travel to Oxford, OH to take on the Miami (Ohio) RedHawks. Miami is coming off of a hard fought 42-27 home loss to Marshall. In that game the RedHawks trailed 28-3 at the half but rattled off 17 straight points to cut the Thundering Herd lead to 28-20 before Marshall pulled away again. In that game Miami produced 418 yards of offense and 27 points under first year head coach Chuck Martin after averaging only 9.8 points and 225.8 yards per game in 2013. The RedHawks have lost 17 consecutive games dating back to 2012 and will no doubt be hungry for a win when the Colonels enter Yager Stadium.
For the Colonels to come out of Saturday with the win they will need to continue to do what they did well against Robert Morris last week—run the football. The RedHawks gave up 171 yards rushing on 36 attempts to Marshall, good for 4.8 yards per rush. Dy’Shawn Mobley was particularly impressive. He rolled up 143 yards on 25 carries. He appears to be the workhorse back that the Colonels lacked last season.
The rest of the backfield was very impressive as well. Sophomore running back J.J. Jude added 88 yards on 13 carries and senior quarterback Jared McClain chipped in with 90 yards and a touchdown on his 8 carries and looked very confident running the offense. University of Tennessee transfer Channing Fugate did not record any carries at fullback but he did haul in 3 passes for 58 yards—one of them a 42 yard touchdown.
They will also need to continue to stop the run. Miami did manage to gain 100 yards on the ground against The Thundering Herd but they took 36 carries to do it and only averaged 2.8 yards a carry. That forced them to throw the ball 49 times. The 318 yards passing and 3 touchdowns that they amassed looks good on paper but RedHawk quarterback Andrew Hendrix only completed 24 of those passes and threw an interception. The Colonels will hope to make him put it up a similar amount of times Saturday.
Running the ball and stopping the run has been a constant goal at EKU going all the way back to the Roy Kidd days. These are not the same old Colonels, however. The emphasis on tempo on offense gave EKU a much different look from years past. In spite of the 3 interceptions Coney looked very suited to run this type of offense and has a really big arm that can really take advantage of a deep Colonel receiving corps. The starting quarterback competition continued this week but, no matter who comes out on top, both quarterbacks will likely see action on Saturday. In addition, redshirt freshman quarterback Barton Mann will probably get some action in the wildcat formation as well. He produced 22 yards on 5 carries with a touchdown against the Colonials to give opponents another wrinkle to prepare for.
The defense, which had to replace the entire front 7 from last season, looked very fast against Robert Morris. They flew to the ball in the running game and, if not for a 17 yard touchdown scamper, would have held RMU to negative yards on the ground. That being said the Colonels are not as big up front as they have been in the past. This could be a problem against an FBS opponent.
I would look for the Colonels to be able to move the ball on the RedHawks. Whether they can stay within striking distance to pull of their first win over an FBS opponent since 1985 will likely come down to 4 things: running the football, stopping the run, cutting down on turnovers and cutting down on penalties. If EKU can do all 4 of those well look for them to be in the game late into the fourth quarter.