RICHMOND – The 104th season of Eastern Kentucky football will begin on Saturday when the Colonels travel to face Big Ten opponent Purdue. The game will air live on ESPN News beginning at noon.
Fans not attending the game in West Lafayette can join others to watch the game at Gillum’s Sports Lounge in Richmond. Fans in the West Lafayette area are welcome to attend the EKU 2016 Tailgate Experience. The event will begin at 9 a.m. at Purdue’s Ross-Ade Stadium.
Eastern has played well against Football Bowl Subdivision teams in recent years. In addition to beating Miami (Ohio) 17-10 in 2014, the Colonels have lost close games at Indiana (19-13), Louisville (23-13) and Kansas State (10-7). Last season, EKU had a 14-point fourth quarter lead at Kentucky but couldn’t hold off a UK rally and lost 34-27 in overtime.
Eastern Kentucky is under the direction of first-year head coach Mark Elder. Elder spent the past three seasons as the tight ends coach and special teams coordinator at Tennessee, working under head coach Butch Jones. Over his past 11 seasons as an assistant coach – at Michigan, Central Michigan, Cincinnati and Tennessee – Elder has helped his teams reach nine bowl games and win four conference championships. In 2015, he was recognized as one of the top-25 recruiters in college football.
The Colonels’ first home game is slated for Thursday, Sept. 8.
Only six starters return on offense and three on defense from last season’s team. Elder and his staff have added 44 new players, including 10 FBS transfers, to the roster since taking over in December.
Eastern Kentucky was picked to finish second in the Ohio Valley Conference this season in the media poll and the coaches poll. In preseason national polls, Eastern Kentucky is ranked as high as No. 22 by College Sports Madness. The Colonels are receiving votes in both the Coaches Poll (t-26th) and the STATS Poll (29th).
Special teams could be a significant strength for EKU in 2016. Punter Keith Wrzuszczak and kicker Lucas Williams both return. Wrzuszczak has been chosen as a preseason All-American by three organizations. Williams was an All-OVC choice last season. Devin Borders enters his final season as the OVC record holder for blocked kicks (12) and blocked field goals (7). The Football Championship Subdivision records for those categories are 17 and 10 respectively.
Purdue finished the 2015 season with a 2-10 record and a 1-7 mark in the Big Ten Conference. The Boilermakers lost four games by 10 or fewer points. Purdue is 6-30 in three seasons under head coach Darrell Hazell. Hazell replaced former EKU Head Coach Danny Hope at the helm of the Boilermaker program before the 2013 season. Hope won 22 games, including two victories over Ohio State, in four seasons and led Purdue to two bowl berths.
Nine starters on the defensive side of the ball, and 10 starters on the offensive side, return in 2016 for Purdue.
Elder and Purdue offensive coordinator Terry Malone were both on the staff at Michigan in 2005. Malone is also the uncle of EKU assistant head coach and offensive line coach Terry Heffernan.