The first game in Kroger Field will be between two in-state schools. UK hosts Eastern Kentucky University on Sept. 9 in the Wildcats’ second game of the season. These two schools last played in 2015. UK scored twice in the final 7:49 of the game after trailing 27-13 in the fourth quarter.
Dean Hood, now the special teams coordinator/outside linebackers coach at UK, was fired by EKU after the 2015 season. Mark Elder took over and went 3-8 in his first season with the Colonels. He’s hoping for improvement in his second season.
Coach: Mark Elder, 2nd season, 3-8 overall
2016 record: 3-8, 1-6 conference
Game time: TBD
The Colonels had a quarterback merry-go-round in 2016. Four different quarterbacks started games for EKU, but James Smith is the only one back from last season. Maty Mauk, a former quarterback at Missouri, played in just two games before a season-ending injury. Bennie Coney was dismissed from the team before the season ended and Tyler Swafford graduated, leaving the position open.
Tim Boyle, who transferred from UCONN in 2016, redshirted last season. The 6-foot-4, 235-pound quarterback should have a shot at the starting position this season. However, Garrett Kruczek could also make a play for the starting position. Kruczek transferred to EKU from Central Florida.
Junior running back Ethan Thomas is the leading returning rusher. He had 402 yards and two touchdowns on 93 rushes in 2016. However, two FBS transfers will be in the backfield this season. L.J. Scott from Louisville and Jason Lewis from Arizona State both transferred to EKU and will be eligible immediately. Lewis was a four-star running back and top 250 recruit according to Rivals.com his senior year.
Ryan Markush is the leading receiver for EKU. He caught 41 passes for 556 yards and three touchdowns last season.
Leading tackler Jeffrey Canady is back for his senior season. The Barbourville, Ky., native had 123 tackles during his redshirt junior season. He comes into the season with 192 career tackles. Another linebacker, Corey Glass, had 73 tackles a season ago.
The Colonels will need to do a better job in run stopping this season. EKU allowed 200.4 yards per game last season. The Colonels did defend the pass well, allowing 205.6 yards per game. That ranked third in the Ohio Valley Conference. The defense allowed 30.6 yards per game in the 2016 season.