UK football opponent preview: WKU

jclay@herald-leader.comJuly 24, 2012 

  • Western's schedule

    Sept. 1 Austin Peay

    Sept. 8 at Alabama

    Sept. 15 at Kentucky

    Sept. 22 Southern Miss

    Sept. 29 at Arkansas State

    Oct. 11 at Troy

    Oct. 20 La.-Monroe

    Oct. 27 at FIU

    Nov. 1 Middle Tennessee

    Nov. 10 Florida atlantic

    Nov. 17 at La.-Lafayette

    Nov. 24 North Texas

Date: Sept. 15 at Commonwealth Stadium. Start time is 7 p.m. on ESPNU.

Coach: Former WKU hero Willie Taggart has returned to rebuild the program and is off to an encouraging start. After a 2-10 debut in 2010 — a step up from an 0-12 mark under his predecessor in 2010 — Taggart guided the Hilltoppers to a 7-5 record last year with all of their wins in their last eight games. The lone loss was to BCS runner-up LSU. Western finished 7-1 in the Sun Belt but was jobbed out of its first bowl appearance since 1963.

Offense: Nine starters return, but not star running back Bobby Rainey, who averaged a stellar 181.5 yards per game rushing last season. He was a two-time Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Year selection. The school's all-time leading rusher won't be easy to replace. Starting quarterback Kawaun Jakes returns, as does offensive line veterans Sean Conway and Adam Smith. Brandon Doughty, who had taken over the starting job before being injured last season, will try to win back the No. 1 quarterback spot.

Defense: Six starters return, including linebacker Andrew Jackson, who averaged 1.42 tackles for a loss per game last year, good enough to rank 13th nationally. Lance Guidry returns for his second year as defensive coordinator after coming to Bowling Green from Miami of Ohio. WKU cut its points allowed from an average of 33.2 in 2010 to 24.8 last season.

Overall: After an 0-4 start last year, Western finished strong and hopes to build on that this season. Overcoming the loss of running back Bobby Rainey will be tough, but WKU expects to be better on defense. Replicating last year's second-place finish in the Sun Belt could be tough. It might depend on the quarterback play of either Kawuan Jakes or Brandon Doughty.

Series: UK is 3-0 against Western Kentucky since 2008. The Cats won 41-3 in 2008, 63-28 in 2010 and 14-3 last year. The two teams will meet again in 2013 back in Nashville.

Schedule: After playing at LSU last season, the Toppers travel to Tuscaloosa to meet defending national champ Alabama this year. Their two toughest Sun Belt games could both be on the road — Oct. 11 at Troy and Oct. 27 at Florida International.

John Clay: (859) 231-3226. Twitter: @johnclayiv. Blog: johnclay.bloginky.com

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