Spread: Louisville -24, O/U 60 (Oddsshark.com)
How to Watch / Listen: 7:00 p.m. kickoff, ACC Network Extra (ESPN app)
#8 Louisville hosted Eastern Kentucky in 2013, and rolled to a 44-7 blowout win over the Colonels. Teddy Bridgewater completed 23-of-32 passes for 397 yards and four touchdowns, and DeVante Parker led the way with five catches for 134 yards and two touchdowns. Preston Brown had two sacks and Calvin Pryor got his first interception of the season, as the defense held EKU to 206 total yards, seven points, and forced two turnovers.
Louisville leads the all-time series 18-8-1.
Meet the 2019 Eastern Kentucky Colonels:
After a 3-8 and 4-7 season in 2016 and 2017, head coach Mark Elder turned it around in 2018 with a 7-4 record. The Colonels finished third in the Ohio Valley Conference behind #10 Jacksonville State and #15 Southeast Missouri State, but beat Southeast Missouri State at home in mid-September. The Colonels would finish the season with four straight wins to close out 2018 over Eastern Illinois, Austin Peay, Robert Morris, and Tennessee Tech.
That run also gave EKU a lot of momentum heading into 2019, where the Colonels were selected to finish third in the OVC behind Jacksonville State and Southeast Missouri State. They were ranked in the FCS preseason top 25 by HERO Sports; but entering Saturday night’s game, they’re sitting on the outside of the top 25, ranked 29th in the Coaches Poll and 30th in the Stats Top 25. A win over Louisville early in the season could propel EKU towards the playoff mix, and possibly position themselves for their first playoff berth since 2014.
Key Offensive Players: RB Daryl McCleskey, Jr; WR/KR Jaelin Carter
EKU showed in game one that they have a lot of depth at running back. Both Daryl McCleskey, Jr. and Alonzo Booth reeled off touchdown runs of 60+ yards, and two more of their running backs had runs of 20+ yards. Among FCS teams, EKU figures to be one of the best in the country at running the football.
McCleskey is the top returning runner from last year, and in EKU’s run-heavy scheme, he is the top guy in their offense. McCleskey rushed for 651 yards and five touchdowns last year, and did so while splitting carries with All-OVC running back (and former Louisville Cardinal) L.J. Scott. This year, the senior was selected as a Preseason All-OVC First Team running back.
The passing game, though, is a huge question mark. The Colonels only completed 52.1% of its passes last year, and had an 11-12 TD-INT ratio. And it didn’t show much improvement against Valparaiso, as they went 14-22 for 109 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
If EKU gets a spark in its passing game, B.K. Smith or Jaelin Carter will be the guys to make it happen. Both receivers are from the Louisville area (Smith from Male HS, Carter from DuPont Manual), and among the top returning receivers for EKU. Smith led the team in receptions (23) and yards (244), while Carter had 20 receptions for 232 yards and two touchdowns in 2018.
Key Defensive Players: DE Aaron Patrick; LB Steven Crowder
Both Leodis Moore III and Aaron Patrick were selected as First Team Preseason All-OVC players, alongside McCleskey, Jr. Patrick recorded 12 tackles for loss and 7.5 sacks last year, to go with 53 tackles.
Patrick is also one of the top pass rushers in EKU history. His 18.5 career sacks entering Saturday’s game ranks him fifth on EKU’s all-time sacks list, and he got one in last week’s game against Valparaiso.
Steven Crowder is an emerging name at linebacker for EKU. Crowder was second on the team in tackles (73) and tackles for loss (8.5), to go with two sacks and one interception last year. He was selected by Phil Steele as a Preseason All-OVC Second Team linebacker, and had an impressive start to 2019 against Valparaiso with seven tackles (three for a loss), and a sack that led to a fumble return touchdown by EKU. The do it all linebacker is a key cog in the EKU defense.
One More Important Thing to Know:
Louisville has lost seven times to FCS opponents since Division I football split into I-A and I-AA in 1978. The Cardinals’ last loss to an FCS opponent came in 1987, when Louisville lost to Marshall 34-31.
On the other side, EKU’s last win against an FBS opponent came in 2014, when the Colonels upset Miami (OH) 17-10. EKU is 1-27 against I-A / FBS opponents since 1998.
- Louisville Front Seven v. EKU Running Game
Like Louisville is doing this season, EKU moved towards a run-first offense in 2018, and it yielded some solid results for the Colonels. EKU ran the ball 64% of the time last season, and in last week’s win over Valparaiso, the Colonels had a 39/22 run/pass split with 8.5 yards per carry, being able to get what they want on the ground.
Louisville allowed 230 rushing yards by Notre Dame on Monday, but other than Ian Book’s multiple scrambles, the Cardinals showed better effort in stopping the run. They held the Irish running backs to 149 yards on 28 carries, which is already leaps and bounds better than last year.
Louisville’s defense has to keep EKU’s running game in check for most of the game, and in particular, force EKU’s quarterback to make a play on third-and-long. One thing to watch here will be how Louisville’s defense, which lacks size at several positions, fares against running back Alonzo Booth. Booth is the second running back behind Daryl McCleskey, Jr., and he is considerably bigger than the starter at 6’1″, 260 lbs. Booth reeled off an 86-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter against Valparaiso, and had several runs where he was able to turn big gains out of nowhere. His quickness at that size will be a good test for the Louisville defense.
- Will Louisville force an interception or two?
Louisville did recover a fumble from Notre Dame quarterback Ian Book on Monday, but other than that, they weren’t able to get an interception. Book is one of the more efficient quarterbacks in college football, so it’s not surprising that he didn’t throw one.
But Louisville should have an opportunity to force some errant throws and interceptions against Eastern Kentucky. The Colonels haven’t had efficient play from the quarterback position in recent years under Mark Elder; in each of his four years as EKU’s head coach, the QB position has yet to record a 3,000 yard season as a team, and they’ve thrown more interceptions than touchdowns during his tenure. For EKU to reach the next level, they have to get better play from the position.
If Louisville can force EKU into third-and-long situations, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the Cardinals send different blitzes at EKU to force their quarterback to make a quick, errant throw. That could lead to turnovers and a short field for Louisville.
- Can Jawon Pass get in a rhythm as a passer?
Louisville managed to outrush Notre Dame 249-230, and was able to establish a solid three-headed attack with Javian Hawkins, Hassan Hall, and quarterback Jawon Pass. But one thing that kept the offense from keeping Notre Dame off-balance was the lack of a threat in the passing game. Louisville only completed 12-of-28 passes on Monday, and while some of it is attributed to great plays that Notre Dame’s coverage made, the Cardinals missed some opportunities with dropped balls and off-target throws.
Louisville should be able to run the ball against EKU’s defense, but this is a week where Jawon Pass has an opportunity to get better as a pocket passer. Scott Satterfield made it clear that he wants to get Dez Fitzpatrick and Seth Dawkins more involved than they were last week, so look for Pass to try and get passes out to them against EKU cornerbacks Josh Hayes and Frank Sumpter.
If Leodis Moore III is playing against Louisville, that will also be a huge matchup to watch. Moore was a Preseason All-OVC First Team cornerback, and as a nickel, will likely draw the assignment of defending Tutu Atwell or graduate transfer Thomas Jackson.