Football

Another SEC test for Toppers

BOWLING GREEN — The scenario of this season's first game is something Western Kentucky Coach David Elson has seen many times before, but that doesn't mean it gets any easier.

When the Hilltoppers open the season at Tennessee on Saturday, it will mark the sixth time in the past seven years that they have played on the road against an opponent from the Southeastern Conference.

So forgive the Hilltoppers if they aren't exactly intimidated by the promise of playing in front of a massive crowd against a team that — at least on paper — seems to overmatch them.

But it will still be a challenge for redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Smith, the former Boyle County star who will make his first career start in the 102,000-seat Neyland Stadium.

"Me and some of the older guys, we've seen places like that," Smith said. "We have to go in there and take care of business."

Crowd noise is something that Elson has prepared for since the spring, blaring music and radio static over the stadium load speakers.

"We've already done it," Elson said. "We've done it throughout camp ... . So we'll work our best on it, and it's still going to be difficult no matter how you slice it."

The Volunteers are going with senior Jonathan Crompton at quarterback, but Elson said he's worried about defending the run. UT will alternate between senior Montario Hardesty, who played behind Arian Foster last season, and super recruit Bryce Brown, a 6-foot, 210-pound freshman out of Wichita, Kan., considered the top running back in this year's class by Scout.com.

"It's all kind of educated guesses, but we think (Tennessee is) going to try to run the football," Elson said. "That's what they're known for."

The Hilltoppers will be the first opponent for first-year head coach Lane Kiffin, who has already made a splash with his brash talk.

But his mouth appears to be the least of the Hilltoppers' troubles. Tennessee's All-America defensive back Eric Berry will be a point of emphasis for Western Kentucky, which is starting two juniors and senior Jake Gaebler at receiver. The Lexington native has 125 career catches for the Toppers, 24 behind the school record.

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