Everything You Need To Know: Louisville v. EKU

Kickoff: 7:00 p.m. ET, ACC Network Extra (WatchESPN)

Last Time:

Jawon Pass threw four touchdown passes, as Louisville cruised to a 42-0 win over Eastern Kentucky in the second game of the Scott Satterfield era. The Cardinals held the Colonels to 172 total yards, including 42 passing yards and 2.9 yards per play. Louisville’s offense was led by a dominant rushing attack, racking up 339 rushing yards and 8.5 yards per carry (Javian Hawkins led the team with 123 on the ground).

Louisville leads the all-time series 19-8-1. EKU has not beaten U of L in football since 1985.

2021 EKU Colonels at a Glance

Eastern Kentucky is coming off a 31-28 win over Western Carolina last week. Despite being outgained by the Catamounts 501-356, the Colonels benefitted off two interceptions by WCU, resulting in ten points off turnovers.

In the offseason, Eastern Kentucky moved to the Atlantic Sun Conference across all sports after being a charter member with the Ohio Valley Conference. EKU finished 3-6 in 2020, with wins coming against The Citadel, #11 Central Arkansas, and Western Carolina.

EKU Offense Breakdown

Second-year head coach Walt Wells has changed the EKU offense significantly from the last time that Louisville played them in 2019. They have transitioned from a run-heavy offense into more of a standard spread offense, and they’ve got some talent to shine as a result.

Purdue transfer Da’Joun Hewitt is coming off a performance that earned him both Offensive Player and Freshman of the Week honors in the Atlantic Sun Conference. Hewitt finished with 78 yards and three touchdowns in the win. He’s got grit between the tackles, but I think the potential is there for him to be used more in the passing game.

Quarterback Parker McKinney is very solid as far as his mechanics go. He has a quick release, can make plays with his feet on scrambles or designed runs, and isn’t afraid to stand in the pocket when facing pressure. He hit some tough throws against Western Carolina last week, and the Colonels often times were rewarded with points.

McKinney’s performance (20/28, 233 yards, TD, INT) was aided by an offensive line that did not yield a sack in last week’s victory over Western Carolina. They also utilized the quick passing game often, and it helps that McKinney’s delivery is usually fast. Mo Edwards led the team last week with 89 yards and a touchdown.

The EKU offense isn’t short on playmakers at receiver, either. Jaden Smith (56 yards) and Matt Wilcox (51 yards) both matched Edwards with five receptions apiece, so expect them to be focal points in the passing game. With how much Ole Miss was able to thrive off a quick passing game, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Eastern Kentucky keep drives moving if Louisville struggles against it again.

Players to Watch: RB Da’Joun Hewitt (Purdue transfer; 78 yards, 3 TDs last week v. Western Carolina); QB Parker McKinney (spring 2020 stats; 64% completion, 12 TDs, 5 INTs); LT Payton Collins (Preseason all-Atlantic Sun; offensive line did not give up a sack v. Western Carolina)

EKU Defense Breakdown

Eastern Kentucky’s defense had some struggles in last week’s game against Western Carolina. The Catamounts were able to run the ball well against the Colonels, but inaccuracy issues in the passing game (24/44, 275 yards, TD, 2 INT) kept Western Carolina from pulling off a win.

EKU usually lines up with three down linemen and blitzes at a moderate clip. Linebackers Matthew Jackson (11 tackles v. Western Carolina) and Kyle Bailey (ten tackles) make a really good tandem for the Colonels, and they’re the key for pretty much everything that Eastern Kentucky can do on defense. Jackson can cover pretty well from the linebacker spot, while Bailey is more of a run stopper. Bailey earned All-Conference USA Honorable Mention honors with Western Kentucky in 2020, tallying 76 tackles (8.5 for loss), three sacks, and an interception.

The secondary can make plays, and they made throws tough for Western Carolina with tight coverage at times. Roy Baker had a huge 78-yard interception return that led to a 14-point swing in EKU’s favor, with Jaden Woods adding another pick in the second half that led to their win.

Players to Watch: LB Matthew Jackson (Second-team All-American in spring 2020; 79 tackles, 8.0 TFL, 2.5 sacks); LB Kyle Bailey (All-Conference USA Honorable Mention in 2020; 76 tackles, 8.5 for loss, three sacks, INT); DB Roy Baker (78-yard interception return last week)

Keys to the Game

  • Can Louisville force Eastern Kentucky into being one-dimensional?

Louisville had a lot of success in 2019 with shutting down EKU’s offense; part of it was due to the scheme that Eastern Kentucky was running, but part of it should also go to Louisville’s defense doing their job across the board.

With the EKU offense going towards a more balanced approach, I’m interested in seeing if Louisville’s defense can show improvements against the quick passing game. One thing I think they can do is try to play their defensive backs closer to the line, so that they don’t give up easy cushions. That would also put everyone in position to make a play with stopping the running game. EKU did have the third best passing totals in FCS last season (247 YPG), so the gameplan will have to start with containing EKU’s passing game. The Louisville front seven will also need to get pressure on McKinney and force him off rhythm with his receivers, or EKU could sustain drives against them.

  • Will Louisville’s running game be able to regain its footing?

I know that fans want to see Louisville air it out more, especially in situations where it is needed. And I think that is a valid complaint at this point, but Louisville’s running game might be the point of emphasis for this one. Eastern Kentucky struggled with rushing defense last week, allowing 233 rushing yards and 5.9 yards per carry to the Catamounts.

Louisville was forced to abandon its running game after a lack of success in the first half, and trailing big throughout the second half. This week needs to be about the team regaining its mojo back, especially the offensive line. If they can hit their marks and open lanes for Jalen Mitchell and company, it could be a decent night for Louisville’s offense. Regaining any momentum will be important ahead of next week’s matchup with UCF.

  • What will the crowd be like for the home opener?

Had Louisville pulled off a win on Monday night, I’d have been confident in Saturday being a sellout crowd. But with a lot of indifference right now towards the program, I am wondering if the first home game with maximum capacity since 2019 will actually bring in a ton of fans to the stadium. It may not make much of a difference in the game, but it is a storyline I am interested in following throughout the season.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.