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Kentucky Wildcat Football – Know Your Enemy: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers



SEPTEMBER 1, 2011, 9:15 PM






9/11/2010:  KENTUCKY  63  WKU  28

9/27/2008:  KENTUCKY  41  WKU 3

Here we go folks, it’s football season.  Thursday night interestingly enough, is all Kentucky Night on ESPNU as Louisville and Murray State butt heads at 6:00PM.  That game should make an interesting pre-game to the Kentucky game as Pat Forde has picked Murray State to beat the Dirty Birds.  No one is picking Western to upset the Wildcats, but this could be a WKU team that can make things interesting for a little while.

Willie Taggart is entering his second year at his alma mater, coming off a 2-10 campaign.  The real weakness with this Western team has been a lack of depth which has caused them to just wear down in the latter stages of games.  Taggart has assembled two straight top rated Sun Belt recruiting classes in a row, so it will be interesting to see how long WKU can hang around in this game.


Kawuan Jakes is back at quarterback for the Hilltoppers.  When Jakes arrived in Bowling Green, he was billed as the type of dual threat QB that would give the opposition fits and keep the Hilltoppers in games with his feet and scrambling ability.  In reality, Jakes has not really filled that role and he rushed for just 210 yards on the season, which translated to just 2.2 yards a carry.  He did find the end zone 4 times running the ball, but he tends to hang in the pocket too long and takes a lot of sacks, with 55 in the past two seasons.  Jakes completed just 51.2% of his passes las season and finished with 10 TDs vs 6 INT’s.   Jakes did not really grow on the job last season as was expected, but the job appears to be solidly his for now.  Redshirt Freshman Brandon Doughty would see action if Jakes were injured.  Doughty is a promising talent and even received an offer from Southern Miss, but had a horrible spring and is entrenched as backup. 

Stopping Bobby Rainey is obviously Joker Phillip’s top concern and Rainey will prove a serious test to Kentucky’s “new” defensive line.  In two games against Kentucky, Rainey has pretty much had his way against the Wildcats with 33 rushes for 283 yards (8.58 yard average) and 2 TD’s.  In 2008, he had 248 all purpose yards against the Wildcats and has broken a long run each time he played them (40 yards in 2008 and 59 yards last year).  Rainey gave everyone problems last year however, finishing third in the NCAA with 1649 yards rushing.  Rainey also added 230 yards in receiving and had 15 TD’s rushing.  Even though he is just 5’8 and 205, Rainey can take a pounding and can carry the ball 40 times in a game. Jakes will undoubtedly be the second leading ball carrier, but Lexington’s Keshawn Simpson is listed second on the depth chart and carried the ball just twice last year.  Simpson is 6’0 and 236.  Look for 2009’s “Mr. Football” Antonio Andrews to get a few carries in as a change of pace back.  Although listed as a WR, Andrews caught just 5 passes last year, but had 32 rushes for 174 yards and 2 TD’s. 

Marcus Vasquez returns as the leading receiver for the Hilltoppers last year and he caught 30 passes for 332 yards and 3 TD’s.  Vasquez found the end zone versus Kentucky last year on a 34 yard pass and he and Jakes have pretty good chemistry, so look for him to get several looks.  Vasquez missed the last few games with a collarbone injury.  Due to leading receiver Willie McNeal’s season ending knee injury in the spring, the rest of the Hilltopper wideouts are an unproven lot.   Fellow starting WR’s Neil Wilson (6’2, 205) and Rico Brown (5’11, 186) accounted for zero catches last season.   Although not listed on the depth chart, former QB Courtney Dalcourt is a good athlete and could get some action.  It’s an unproven unit, so look for TE Jack Doyle to get his share of looks.  Doyle has great size (6’6, 248) and is coming off a solid 20 catch, 224 yard season.   Doyle also missed the last five games of the season with an injury. 


The Hilltoppers actually return a pretty experienced defensive line with 96 starts between them.  It’s not a line that will get to the QB a lot as they had just 12 sacks last year, and they allowed 177 yards a game.  That was a huge decrease from the 245 they allowed in 2009.  Now with another year under their belt, this is a bigger, stronger, and pretty respectable unit.  DE Quanterus Smith had 4 of those sacks and nearly a quarter of his tackles were behind the line of scrimmage. 

The Hilltoppers have a very inexperienced linebacking corp as Tye Golden (2 tackles last year) and Ben Duvall (8 tackles) are projected as starters.  The most experienced player, Xavius Boyd with 23 tackles, is currently behind Tyler Julian on the depth chart.  No matter how you list them, this is a very young and a very raw unit.  Look for CJ Odom to work his way into the rotation. 

As weak as the linebackers are, they have a pretty respectable secondary.  Western returns seven of the top eight players from last year’s unit that gave up just 8 TD’sTD’s in the first three games last year versus Nebraska, Kentucky and Indiana. Hartline/Newton/Cobb accounted for 276 yards and 4 of those TD’s.  Derrius Brooks was the top CB last year for WKU, accounting for 3 of the Hilltopper’s 8 picks.  Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright stepped in last year as true freshman and produced.  Even though the yardage numbers were respectable, there was a lack of takeaways. 


Western actually drew first blood last year and played very respectable until the fourth quarter when their lack of depth wore them down and Kentucky blew the game open.  The Hilltoppers are only about a 20 point underdog and they were down just 49-28 last year in the fourth quarter, so this is a team that can hang around for a while and make things uncomfortable. That said, there are a lot of holes that can be exploited in Western this time around.

They have a pretty weak receiver and linebacker corps.  Plus their defense does not generate a lot of pressure on the QB or turnovers.  All of these weaknesses should play into giant strengths for Kentucky.  Kentucky’s DB’s should be able to limit the WR’s and keep the passing total around 150 yards or so.  And even though the DB’s are respectable, LaRod King and Brian Adams both stand 6’4 and should be able to get some good gains.  Kentucky’s OL should be able to push WKU’s DL around all night and that will allow Raymond Sanders to break a few runs and get bast the LB’s.  The OL dominance will also open up passing lanes and he should be able to have a pretty solid passing day.  The real advantage for WKU is Rainey, but he can not carry the load by himself.

I look for Kentucky to come out focused and jump out to a quick lead and the tone will be set by a turnover by UK.  Rainey will get his yards, but I think the overall offensive talent is a little weaker this year and WKU will be very hard pressed to get close to their 28 points they had last year.  I do expect the Kentucky offense to hit a few snags and not look very good on a few possessions, but in the end, WKU presents a good tuneup for them.  This game will not be as high scoring as last years but expect Kentucky’s defense to set the tone.  Newton and company will hit their stride in the second quarter and Kentucky should roll to a 38-14 win

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