Kentucky football: Wildcats admit to playing down to competition after Eastern Michigan game

LEXINGTON, Ky. — Kentucky beat Eastern Michigan by 4 points Saturday night in what has become an alarming trend for the Wildcats: playing to the level of their opponent.

Put Kentucky’s 24-20 win against Eastern Michigan in the same group as a 24-17 win against Southern Miss and a 27-16 win against Eastern Kentucky. The Cats looked average at best in those three contests.

But then there’s Kentucky’s 23-13 win at South Carolina and a 28-27 loss to Florida — easily the two best performances of the season for coach Mark Stoops’ squad.

So, has Kentucky played down to their level of competition this season?

“A few times, yeah,” quarterback Stephen Johnson admitted Saturday. Stoops said he doesn’t want to believe that’s the case.

But Eastern Michigan was a Hail Mary heave from beating Kentucky in a game the Eagles were two-touchdown underdogs in. Eastern Michigan outgained Kentucky 312-228. It was the fewest yards the Cats (4-1) managed in any game this season.

“I wouldn’t say we underestimated that team, but we didn’t come out with that fire like we would a Florida or any other team,” running back Benny Snell said after the game.

“At times it felt like we weren’t really prepared to be in that game,” Stephen Johnson added.

Kentucky’s offense was held to 1.4 yards per rushing attempt thanks to five Eastern Michigan sacks. But UK’s defense returned the favor by sacking Eastern Michigan quarterback Brogan Roback five times and holding the Eagles to just 13 rushing yards for the game. Mike Edwards’ last-second interception kept Kentucky from disaster.

The Wildcats’ offensive line leaked for much of the night, and coordinator Eddie Gran said his side lacked its “edge.”

“The attitude, the juice, the freakin want to of getting after it and whipping somebody’s tail every snap,” Gran said. “Doesn’t matter if it’s Florida, Eastern Kentucky, Eastern Michigan — doesn’t matter. This game is a big man’s game and you have to bring it every week or you will get your tail kicked.”

Kentucky was coming off a 28-27 loss to Florida the week prior, but no player pointed to a hangover. Gran said if a hangover existed it would’ve been the fault of him and the staff.

Saturday’s game against Eastern Michigan was sandwiched in between Kentucky’s SEC slate, and Johnson pointing to a lack of preparation helps make sense as to why the score was so close. But why?

“Honestly, man, I don’t know,” linebacker Denzil Ware said. “I know at the end of the day the scoreboard said Kentucky was out on top. I’m never gonna take back from a victory.”

Kentucky’s schedule gets tougher from here on out with only SEC games and Louisville left. That’s the positive for Stoops’ Cats if they’re indeed playing to the level of their competition. The competition is about to ramp up, but Kentucky’s inconsistency could be detrimental down the road.

“If you wanna be a great team and you wanna go places, you’ve gotta play everybody the same way,” senior guard Nick Haynes said. “There’s gotta be a standard to how you play. Right now it’s not good that we go play different conferences and play down to their level. That’s not what we need to do at all. We’re an SEC team and we need to play like that.”

RELATED: Everything Mark Stoops said after the Eastern Michigan game

Watch: Mark Stoops’ postgame press conference

WATCH: Mark Stoops after Kentucky's 24-20 win against Eastern Michigan

Posted by Kentucky Wildcats – SEC Country on Saturday, September 30, 2017

The post Kentucky football: Wildcats admit to playing down to competition after Eastern Michigan game appeared first on SEC Country.

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