All eyes will once again be on Dustin Grutza as he returns under center after a year behind Ben Mauk. A good start to the season will be critical for Grutza with Oklahoma on deck, and he'll get a test as the strength of the Colonels defense is the backfield. Safety Brandon Gathof is a pre-season FCS All American and fellow S Zach Denton was named to the All OVC team. The Bearcats talented array of WRs should make things easier for Grutza as they spread out the EKU defense and keep the talented duo from keying on routes.
Look for the Cats to take a page out of the 2007 opener and put the ball in the hands of the ground game early and often. They rolled for 314 to open last year, and several times in scrimmage situations we've seen the rushing attack called on to carry the load. Jacob Ramsey and John Goebel are expected to be the main two backs, but look for spring and summer surprise Scott Johnson to get his chances as well as the game gets in to the 2nd half.
With some changes on the O Line this off season, and the concern over depth, it will be vital to avoid injuries to start the season. DE Chris Coy is the biggest threat on the D Line for the Colonels, and if they can keep him in check it should be pretty smooth sailing for the Coast to Coast offense.
When Eastern Kentucky Has The Ball
The highly touted UC defense will get a solid test from one of the better QB's at the FCS level in EKU SR Allan Holland. The big question for EKU is who will step up and make plays at WR after the top three options in 2007 graduated. Only SOPH Evan Cromer has logged quality minutes at the position while FBS transfers Shannon Davis (Tulane) and Stephon Fuqua (Akron) will be looked to for production.
The Colonels lost over 1,700 yards on the ground to graduation, and trying to break in new blood will be tough against the Cats vaunted run D. They will catch a break as All American DT Terrill Byrd will be serving a one game suspension and DT Adam Hoppel will be limited as he returns from an injury. Ricardo Mathews and John Hughes will be asked to carry the load inside, and we could see the debut of FR Derek Wolfe in the rotation. It also marks the first live action former TE Connor Barwin will see at DE.
The real trouble for EKU is replacing four of five starters across the offensive line. Michael Howard started all 12 games last year at LG, but is expected to be moved to C while UNC transfer Andre Barbour steps in to the vacant LT spot. If this unit isn't on their game early, this game could be all Bearcats from the opening kick.
There is nothing a football team loves more than getting the season started, and finally having an opponent to hit instead of a teammate. UC used the ground and pound attack in 2006 to knock off EKU 31-0, and I wouldn't be surprised to see that number close to double after a full year of experience running Brian Kelly's Coast to Coast attack.