SEC: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

What to watch in the SEC: Week 2

September, 5, 2013

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:

[+] EnlargeClowney
Gerry Melendez/Getty ImagesAfter his lackluster showing in the season opener, all eyes will be on Jadeveon Clowney when South Carolina faces Georgia.
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.

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 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.

Video: Schlabach's Week 2 upset pick

September, 4, 2013

With very little to choose from in Week 2, Mark Schlabach looks to the Hilltoppers of Western Kentucky to knock off their second SEC opponent in two weeks.

Kentucky falls to WKU in Stoops' debut

September, 1, 2013
In a battle of debuting coaches, Bobby Petrino and Western Kentucky came out on top, earning a 35-26 win over Kentucky and its new coach, Mark Stoops.

Kentucky struggled early offensively, especially in the passing game, netting just 18 first-half passing yards, yet still staying in the game, down 21-17 at the half. Western Kentucky outgained the Wildcats in total offense 487-419 for the night.

The Hilltoppers pulled away in the late third and early fourth quarters. Quarterback Brandon Doughty connected with Mitchell Henry for a 9-yard touchdown to extend their lead to 11 with 1:50 to go in the third, then Leon Allen gave Western Kentucky a 35-17 lead with a 14-yard touchdown run with 13:32 remaining.

Doughty was 27 of 34 passing for 271 yards and a touchdown. Allen (10 carries, 92 yards) and Antonio Andrews (20 carries, 99 yards) each neared the century mark in rushing yards.

Sophomore Maxwell Smith replaced starting quarterback Jalen Whitlow in the fourth quarter. Smith was 8-of-13 for 125 yards and a score while Whitlow finished 10-of-15 for 78 yards and added 75 rushing yards and a score on the ground.

The Wildcats had a stretch where they punted on four straight possessions that spanned the 1:46 mark in the second quarter to the 1:36 mark in the third.

Missouri 58, Murray State 14

Quarterback James Franklin and running back Henry Josey turned in productive days to help lift the Tigers to a blowout win over FCS foe Murray State.

Franklin was 26-of-38 passing for 318 yards and three touchdowns before exiting the game in the third quarter.

Murray State hung tough with the Tigers in the first quarter, taking a 14-13 lead, helped by a Missouri fumble on the first drive of the game that Murray State later turned into a Maikhai Miller 17-yard touchdown pass to Walter Powell for a 7-0 lead.

But Missouri pulled away with 45 unanswered points. The Racers punted or turned it over on their next 11 possessions.

Josey, who was making his first appearance since having two knee surgeries that kept him out of action last season, had 113 yards and a touchdown on 13 carries. Russell Hansbrough also got involved in the running game, posting 104 yards on eight carries. Miller threw three interceptions in the game for Murray State.

Tennessee 45, Austin Peay 0

The Volunteers launched a new era and made a little history in the process as they cruised to an easy win over FCS foe Austin Peay.

The Butch Jones era at Tennessee got off to a positive start as the Vols scored three touchdowns in the first quarter and three touchdowns in the second quarter to take a commanding 42-0 halftime lead.

The win marked the Volunteers' 800th win in program history. They are the eighth school in the country to reach that mark, joining Alabama, Michigan, Nebraska, Notre Dame, Ohio State, Oklahoma and Texas.

Quarterback Justin Worley was an efficient 11-of-13 for 104 yards and three touchdowns while running back Rajion Neal turned in a 141-yard, one-touchdown performance on 16 carries.

Tide's McCarron in total command in rout

September, 8, 2012
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- AJ McCarron showed it in the first half against Michigan, a willingness to set his feet, find a receiver and deliver the ball with authority. He showed he could control the offense under center.

A week later, against an unranked Western Kentucky team looking for more than a payday in Tuscaloosa, McCarron continued to take ownership of the No. 1-ranked Crimson Tide, carving up the defense with big play after big play. The junior quarterback tied a career high with four touchdown passes in a 35-0 rout of the Hilltoppers.

Read the rest of the story here.

Instant analysis: Alabama 35, WKU 0

September, 8, 2012

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.