Our good pal Fletcher Keel over at theWKU’s excellent blog the Towel Rackgives us an inside look at the Hilltoppers ahead of Saturday’s homecoming
Miner Rush: How much different is a WKU football team without Jeff Brohm, and with Mike Sanford at the helm?
Fletcher Keel: It's a very different team, and we were told how different things would be right up front when the season began but refused to listen. Brohm loved to spread the field, get creative and score as quickly and often as possible.
Sanford, on the other hand, is a fan of ball control and clock management. He wants the points just as bad, but he also wants to wear the defense down for 12 plays and an 8 minute drive before he puts points on the board.
You know that feeling when you're driving on the highway at 70 for five hours, and then you reach the suburbs and you have to slow to 35 and it feels like you're crawling? That's basically what the transition from watching last year's offense to this year's offense has been.
MR: Offensive efficiency is a high percentage mark for the Tops, but what is the true strength of WKU’s offense?
FK: This may sound like a cop out, but I really don't think we know the true strength of the offense yet. Outside of Mike White, who we knew what he can and does do, there are a bunch of guys who could make a big impact, but either haven't or haven't on a consistent basis.
So in that regard, the true strength of the WKU offense is "potential." Marquez Trigg, Quinton Baker and the new to the scene Jakari Moses all have the potential to be the running back, but no one has truly emerged.
Nacarius Fant and Lucky Jackson have the potential to step in the shoes of the departed Taywan Taylor and Jared Dangerfield, but we are still waiting to see if and/or when they do so.
MR: Give me two players on each side of the ball UTEP fans should know about?
FK: On offense, the aforementioned Moses and tight end Deon Yelder are the two guys who, if the Ball State game is any indication, are going to wind up being the show stoppers come season's end. WKU used to be a "Tight End U" of sorts, producing guys like Jack Doyle, Tyler Higbee and Mitchell Henry (RIP), but as of late they haven't had that reliable pass catching threat. Yelled changed that a couple of weeks ago, and I'm hoping through the bye week his repoire with White has only gotten better.
The first time Moses touched the football in a WKU uniform, he took it to the house for a 19-yard touchdown against Louisiana Tech and, with an injury to Quinton Baker, led the Tops in rushing last time out against Ball State (12 carries, 56 yards and a touchdown). OH and did I mention my dude is a true freshman?
On defense, you can really take your pick. For the first time in a while, the defense is more reliable than the offense, and honestly, it's kind of a relief. Previous WKU teams would simply outscore their opponents and be fine (check out the box score from the WKU/Old Dominion game in 2014) but this year, they can win a tight one (except the La Tech one, which still hurts). But, if I had to single out a pair of defensive names, I'm going to go with the easy ones - Joel Iyiegbuniwe (they call him Iggy, for somewhat obvious reasons) and Joe Brown, who has an interception in two straight games, including a game-sealing pick six against the Cardinals.
MR: Does this feel like a “trap game” due to UTEP’s poor play, and the events surrounding UTEP’s program this week?
FK: I don't think so, but a lot of our readers do, which I don't really get.
If there's a trap to be had, it's in the fact that the Tops will play UTEP and Charlotte before matching up with Old Dominion in a very important game for final placement in the CUSA East, so if the Tops are caught looking two weeks ahead, they could be in trouble.
But, for a team that's coming off a bye and a coaching staff that has had one game slip through their fingers and nearly had a second one, they're going to want to prove they can finish. I do not envy UTEP this week.
MR: UTEP might shock the world and beat WKU if (blank) happens…..??
FK: The Miners all dress up as Big Red and play EA Sports NCAA Mascot Madness style, because the Tops will be so shocked they won't know what to do.
In all seriousness, they need to get pressure on White. It sounds simple enough, but going back to the differences between Brohm/Sanford, Brohm loved taking deep shots down the field, and the offensive line was sturdy enough to allow time for those routes to develop. So far, the O-Line has been a bit shaky and White doesn't have the time to allow those deep balls to happen, so he has to settle for a short pass or dump it off to a nearby target to try and pick some yards up with his feet.
FK: It's not going to be pretty, unfortunately. I think the Tops show a return to the Brohm era and they come out punching fast and hard, and are going to hang something absurd like 30 points on the Miners before halftime.
I've seen a lot of predictions hovering around the "40-6" range, and I'm going to follow suit. Give me a 48-14 Topper win, and we'll see yall for hoops in February.