Get to know the opponent: Western Kentucky
Western Kentucky is a strong opponent. Alabama head coach Nick Saban wants to make that clear. The Tide coach made a point to stress to reporters during Monday’s press conference that the Hilltoppers are a strong team and do not need to be overlooked by the fans, the players or the media.
“I know that you all don’t think Western Kentucky is very good, but they’ve won eight out of their last nine games, and they are probably one of the better teams in the Sun Belt this year, maybe the Sun Belt champs eventually,” Saban said. “They’ve got 18 or 19 starters coming back from last year’s team that won seven out of the last eight games after going 0-4 Willie Taggart has done a really good job there in the three seasons that he’s been there.
“They do a great job in terms of putting pressure on you. Their defense really pressures the offense a lot. Offensively, the guys from Stanford do a lot of formations, a lot of shifts, a lot of motions and a lot of things that try to outflank you in a lot of different ways. This is a very challenging game for us.”
How do they stack up:
From a personnel standpoint, the Hilltoppers don’t have the players to match up with the players Alabama has in its arsenal. However, Western Kentucky has put together a respectable couple of recruiting classes since Taggart took control three years ago.
The third-year coach came to Bowling Green, Ky., to coach his alma mater and has posted a 10-15 record. Last season, he guided the Hilltoppers to a 7-5 record. His 2011 team was the only FBS team to finish the season with a winning record without receiving a bowl bid.
This year, his team returns 48 letterwinners and 19 starters. On offense, the Hilltoppers return 10 starters. On defense, Lance Guidry, the Hilltoppers’ defensive coordinator, has eight returning starters from 2011.
Austin Peay was Western Kentucky’s first game of the season and they did not prove to be much of a test for Taggart’s squad. The Hilltoppers won 49-10 behind a phenomenal performance from senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes.
Jakes was 18-for-23 through the air on the day for 296 yards, four touchdowns and one interception. His favorite target in the season opener was senior tight end Jack Doyle. Doyle hauled in five receptions for 76 yards against Austin Peay.
All in all, Western Kentucky amassed 596 yards of total offense against Austin Peay. The Hilltoppers threw for 352 yards and rushed for 244 yards while earning 28 first downs. The roster may not be full of household names, but to take perhaps the best team in the Sun Belt conference lightly is an absolute danger.
When the Hilltopper offense is on the field, Alabama will have a nice test. Taggart’s offense is a West Coast-based offense that would prefer to throw the ball if the opportunity is available. However, more times than not, Taggart elects to use one his three capable running backs to move his offense into easier passing situations or set up play actions.
On defense, Guidry likes to play out of a base 4-3 defense. His defense was statistically the strongest in the Sun Belt conference in 2011. With eight starters returning, the defense should be just as talented in 2012. While Alabama definitely has the talent and strength to likely wear down the defense over the course of the game, Guidry’s defense will be intent on standing strong against the Tide.
“This is a very challenging game for us. We are certainly looking forward to the challenges we have,” Saban said on Monday. “They have a very good quarterback as well who has been a three or four year starter for them. He’s very athletic and can scramble and run and make plays.
“This game is about us playing as well as we can play and improving as much as we can improve. We certainly have a lot of respect for our opponent”
Where will the game be won:
Like most games the Crimson Tide play in, the game will be won in the trenches. The average height of the Hilltopper defensive line is 6-foot-2 and their average weight is 269 pounds. Compare that to the Crimson Tide offense line’s averages — 6-foot-5, 314 pounds, and you have a recipe for success for Alabama on the ground.
On the other side, Alabama’s average height on the defensive line is 6-foot-4, and 296 pounds. The Hilltoppers’ offensive line is an average of 6-foot-4, 304 pounds. Combined with Alabama’s edge rushers and the assumed strength of the Alabama defensive line compared to the Western Kentucky offensive line, the Tide should have no problem making things happen on both sides of the ball.
While Willie Taggart has his team playing confident, inspired football for the past few seasons, the Hilltoppers will have to wait another week to have its best chance of defeating a Southeastern Conference opponent. The experience Taggart’s team will gain in Tuscaloosa should serve them well when they travel to Lexington on September 15.
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