Kentucky football moved to 2-0 on the 2023 season with a 28-17 win over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday. The Wildcats’ annual game against an FCS opponent probably will not tell us much about what to expect in Southeastern Conference play, but it at least should help build some early season momentum.
Here is a closer look at what the victory means beyond the scoreboard.
Record against FCS teams remains perfect
With the future of the SEC schedule in flux, there has been no shortage of debate about what Kentucky’s non-conference schedule should look like if the league eventually moves to a nine-game conference slate.
In that scenario, the annual Governor’s Cup rivalry game against Louisville might be at risk, but only if the SEC allows teams to continue playing one FCS team per season. UK’s win over EKU is the latest reminder why programs look to schedule those games.
Since the schedule permanently moved to 12 games in 2006, Kentucky is 17-0 against teams from the division formerly known as I-AA. The only year in that span the Wildcats did not play an FCS team was 2020 when the SEC moved to a 10-game conference-only schedule due to COVID-19 testing protocols.
Kentucky has won its 17 games against FCS foes under the current schedule format by an average of 28.2 points per game. Only four of those games, including Saturday’s, were decided by fewer than 24 points.
While it is not unprecedented for an FCS team to upset an FBS foe, Kentucky has avoided that trap to date. Having a game on the schedule where the Wildcats can play well short of their best, like Saturday, and still win is obviously appealing to coaches and administrators.
If the SEC moves to a nine-game schedule, it is likely the Wildcats’ desire to schedule the closest thing to a guaranteed win available each season will only increase.
Lackluster showing might not say much about rest of the season
Of course, all wins are not created equal. It would be impossible for anyone to spin UK’s first-half offensive performance against EKU as anything but abysmal.
The Wildcats did not score on their first six drives. The first touchdown only came after a Barion Brown punt return gave the offense the ball at the EKU 24-yard line.
So, should fans be worried the inability to immediately put away a team that lost 66-13 to Cincinnati a week ago is a sign of bigger issues to come?
Kentucky’s 2021 season also featured an early clunker against an FCS opponent. Kentucky trailed Chattanooga 16-14 in the fourth quarter of that game on the way to a 28-23 victory. The Wildcats still went on to the program’s second 10-win season since 1977 and a winning record in SEC play.
However, the offensive issues on display in lackluster performances during the September non-conference games a year ago did end up being a sign of season-long issues.
Stoops and company don’t have to look far into the past for proof an ugly early performance can be overcome on the way to a special season, but that will only happen if improvements are made. Next week’s game against Akron provides another warm-up opportunity, but Southeastern Conference play is rapidly approaching.