We at Pick 6 know the bye week is just on the horizon. We also know how unwise it would be to look past an up-and-coming Western Kentucky squad.
That’s why we brought on Zach Greenwell, a WKU beat writer for The Bowling Green (Ky.) Daily News, to tell us all about the Hilltoppers in this week’s Q&A. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zach_greenwell and read his work here.
1. Western Kentucky is in just its seventh season as an FBS school, but the Hilltoppers are 6-1 and on the fringe of the top 25. What’s the mood around the program like right now?
You can start to feel some buzz really building around a school that’s traditionally been all about basketball. WKU has a lot of confidence right now after four straight convincing wins, and the Hilltoppers are pushing the “house money” theme hard this week.
Coach Jeff Brohm has said he just wants his team to play relaxed and loose at LSU, and whatever happens after that is fine with him. They obviously want to have a good showing in this game and would love to win, but their goal of winning Conference USA is right on track.
2. As one of the top-tier Group of 5 teams and a squad that is receiving votes in both major polls, how competitive can WKU be against LSU?
That depends on a lot of factors. In my opinion, early success for WKU is critical against good competition. If the Hilltoppers win the toss, they will almost assuredly take the ball and try to strike fast for a quick lead.
The worst thing that can happen for WKU in this game is to quickly fall behind by a couple of scores and get methodically worked over by Leonard Fournette and company. The Tops don’t have a great defense, but it’s markedly better when playing with the confidence of a lead – or at least not a discouraging deficit.
Do I expect WKU to beat LSU? No. But I think there’s certainly a scenario in which they put a scare into the Tigers and make a good game of it.
3. The one matchup everyone is talking about is QB Brandon Doughty against the Tigers’ surprisingly shaky secondary. What are the chances he puts up his usual numbers against LSU?
I would be surprised for Doughty to seem rattled by the situation, but Vanderbilt did limit his effectiveness for much of the season opener.
A lot of that also depends on his receivers. A big part of Doughty’s game is short and intermediate routes, where he gets his guys the ball in a good position to make a play. That’s one of the things NFL scouts like the most about him. Against Vanderbilt, the receivers uncharacteristically dropped several early passes, and any nerves in Tiger Stadium would be detrimental.
He’s a very smart, capable quarterback, and if his line can give him time to make reads, there’s no reason to think he can’t have standout numbers on a very big stage.
4. We all know Doughty can pick apart a defense, but it’s tough for any QB to do that when under fire. Can the Hilltoppers’ offensive line contain an LSU pass rush that has totaled 17 sacks through six games?
Ahh, speak of the devil. Well, it’s difficult to say, because WKU’s offensive line has been impressive to this point, but this is a whole different beast.
It’s always difficult to project how a team like Western Kentucky will fair against elite SEC talent because it just doesn’t see it very often. LSU getting some of that pressure and putting Doughty on his back is one of the surest ways to take the life out of WKU’s offense.
5. D’Andre Ferby appears to be the feature back, but WKU has five players who have 19 carries or more. Do you expect the Hilltoppers’ multi-headed rushing attack to find success against the Tigers’ 8th-ranked rush defense?
A little background is probably necessary with WKU’s run game. First, WKU lost starter Leon Allen – an NFL-level talent and a 1,500-yard rusher a year ago – to a knee injury in the
No. 2 running back Anthony Wales was out with a hamstring injury until a couple of weeks ago, so No. 3 D’Andre Ferby carried the load. Ferby is a 6-1, 240-pound downhill runner who can provide a little bit of power.
Ferby suffered a concussion in the second half of the Middle Tennessee game two weeks ago and was out last week against North Texas. In his place, Wales returned and has been stellar over the last two weeks.
Wales is more of a speedy option with some ability to the outside, so if Ferby is healthy, I’d expect WKU to try to use both Wales and Ferby in doses to keep LSU honest while it establishes the pass.
6. LSU’s special teams — specifically the coverage units — have been a weak point this season. With Kylen Towner averaging more than 30 yards per kick return, how big of a factor can special teams play in this game?
Getting some explosive plays from Towner would be a big boost to WKU’s efforts. Just simply giving the Tops some favorable field position a few times would go a long way toward getting some points and staying in the hunt.
Towner’s a small slot receiver – he doesn’t play a lot on offense – and he’s pretty shifty with breakaway speed. He can absolutely be a difference-maker if he can get loose.
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