NCF Nation: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
September, 5, 2013
By Sam Khan Jr. | ESPN.com
The second week of the college football season is upon us.
Some exceeded expectations in Week 1, others fell short. In the SEC, a few coaches made debuts at new programs, a few key players suffered injuries that will affect their teams and there is buzz, both good and bad, surrounding some of the league’s most visible stars.
Here are 10 things to keep an eye on in the SEC in Week 2:
1. What will Clowney do? South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has endured much criticism after a pedestrian performance in the Gamecocks' season-opening win against North Carolina. After a three-tackle, no-sack performance, some observers questioned Clowney's conditioning and South Carolina coach Steve Spurrier said Clowney was definitely affected by the heat. This week, the No. 6 Gamecocks meet No. 11 Georgia and you can bet people will watch Clowney even more closely as the stakes are raised as each team opens SEC play.
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesAfter his lackluster showing in the season opener, all eyes will be on Jadeveon Clowney when South Carolina faces Georgia.
2. What's next for Manziel? Johnny Manziel's return to the field for Texas A&M yielded terrific on-field results (6-of-8 passing, 94 yards, three touchdown passes) as well as a firestorm of media criticism as a result of an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty he committed and a few celebrations. Whether he likes it or not, all eyes are on him and as Aggies coach Kevin Sumlin said, "people want to make a story out of anything that happens on this team right now." Will there be more non-football conversation circulating Manziel after the Aggies play Sam Houston State on Saturday?
3. Jones returns for UF: Sophomore running back Matt Jones returns to the Florida lineup this weekend as the Gators travel to Miami. The 6-foot-2, 226-pound Jones missed three weeks of practice while recovering from a viral infection and offensive coordinator Brent Pease said Jones will see plenty of touches in his return, perhaps as many as 25 carries.
4. Familiar foe for Malzahn: Auburn and new coach Gus Malzahn are hosting a team that he's quite familiar with -- Arkansas State. Malzahn spent last year as the Red Wolves' head coach, leading them to a 9-3 record and a conference championship before departing for Auburn prior to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Arkansas State's new coach is former Texas offensive coordinator Bryan Harsin, who led the Red Wolves to a 62-11 win over Arkansas-Pine Bluff in his debut. Meanwhile, Malzahn's new team escaped with a 31-24 win over Washington State behind new starting quarterback Nick Marshall.
5. Prescott likely to start for Mississippi State: Starting quarterback Tyler Russell sustained a concussion in the Bulldogs' loss Saturday to Oklahoma State and is doubtful to play this weekend against Alcorn State. That means coach Dan Mullen will likely turn to backup Dak Prescott, a 6-2, 230-pound sophomore, to fill in. The dual-threat quarterback brings an ability to run the football to the Bulldogs' offense, recording 131 yards on 32 carries in spot duty last season. Mullen said he's confident in Prescott.
6. Adjustments to be made for Georgia: A season-opening 38-35 loss to talented ACC foe Clemson yielded an injured receiver (Malcolm Mitchell is out for the season after an ACL injury suffered while celebrating a Todd Gurley touchdown) and displayed a struggling offensive line. Quarterback Aaron Murray rarely had time to throw against Clemson and the Bulldogs are facing a talented South Carolina defensive front. But the Clemson loss can be easily forgotten if the Bulldogs open SEC play with a win over a top-10 team and fellow SEC East squad.
7. Can Stoops and Kentucky bounce back? There was a lot of buzz surrounding the debut of new Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops but it was killed by a season-opening loss to Western Kentucky. The Wildcats host Miami (Ohio) and are double-digit favorites. It's imperative to erase the taste of last week's loss with a win this week for UK.
8. Intriguing matchup in Knoxville: Tennessee cruised to a win over FCS foe Austin Peay in the opening week but now get a little bit of a tougher test in Bobby Petrino's Western Kentucky squad, which is fresh off its upset of Kentucky. The Volunteers are favored and rightfully so, and they're a higher caliber opponent than Kentucky. It would be a tough task for the Hilltoppers to pull off in Neyland Stadium, but it's worth at least keeping an eye on as Petrino tries to start 2-0 against SEC foes while Tennessee's Butch Jones looks to keep positive momentum going.
9. Ole Miss looking for others to emerge: The Rebels lost guard Aaron Morris to a season-ending knee injury and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche for 4-6 weeks because of a meniscus tear. Though they have an FCS foe in Southeast Missouri State, the Rebels will need others to step up in their absences.
10. Mettenberger looking to build on Week 1: In his first game under new offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, LSU quarterback Zach Mettenberger did enough to guide the Tigers to a 37-27 win over TCU. This week against UAB, he told reporters he has to be a little more accurate than his 16-for-32 showing, which was otherwise solid, yielding 251 yards and a touchdown pass.
September, 8, 2012
By Greg Ostendorf | ESPN.com
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama head coach Nick Saban didn’t want his team taking Western Kentucky lightly, and although it might not have looked exciting, the Crimson Tide cruised to a 35-0 win as they get ready for Arkansas next week.
Quarterback AJ McCarron finished 14-of-19 for 219 yards and matched a career high with four touchdown passes. Freshman sensation T.J. Yeldon had just 25 yards rushing but caught four passes for 47 yards. Fellow freshman Kenyan Drake added a 32-yard touchdown run late in the game.
The defense gave up 224 yards to the Hilltoppers, but the unit forced four turnovers to keep the shutout intact. Junior college transfer Deion Belue made the first interception of his career at UA.
It was over when: You could make a case it was when Western Kentucky got off the bus, but the Hilltoppers made it closer than the experts predicted. Still, when McCarron connected with Christion Jones on a 22-yard touchdown pass to make it 21-0 with 6:53 remaining in the first half, there was no coming back.
Game ball goes to: The easy choice would be to give it to McCarron, who tied a career high with four touchdowns, but wide receivers Christion Jones and Kevin Norwood each caught two scores and gave the Tide the big play ability they lacked a year ago. Now a junior, Norwood has emerged into a playmaker and one of McCarron’s favorite targets.
Stat of the game: Alabama committed just one penalty all game. This has to make Saban happy after the Tide committed seven penalties for 55 yards last week against Michigan.
Unsung hero: The Alabama pass rush looked to be more effective against the Hilltoppers and leading the way was redshirt freshman Xzavier Dickson. The outside linebacker seemed to be in the backfield all game. His biggest play came midway through the second quarter when he sacked the quarterback, forced a fumble and kept WKU off the board.
What it means for Alabama: Regardless of what head coach Nick Saban says, this was just a tune-up for next week’s showdown at Arkansas. Alabama’s offense looked efficient and McCarron keeps improving. The defense didn’t give up the big play, but WKU showed it could move the ball. Turnovers were key and will be key again next week.
What it means for WKU: Nobody expected the Hilltoppers to win or even keep it close for that matter. They didn’t look scared, though. This is a good football team who has the talent to compete in the Sun Belt this year. Playing in this type of environment can only help down the road.