Location: L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, KY
Game Time: 6:30 PM CT/7:30 PM ET, Saturday, September 8th
How To Watch: ESPN+
This will be the first ever meeting between these two teams.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers lost to the Wisconsin Badgers in week one 34-3. Despite that margin, the Tops showed to many that they have made several steps in the right direction over the offseason. For starters, the offensive line, despite their collective inexperience, allowed just one sack against #4 Wisconsin after averaging about four last season. Drew Eckels played relatively well in his first career start at QB going 15 of 26 for 167 yards passing. If not for some crucial mistakes close to the goal line (A Davis Shanley fumble and a bizarre trick play come to mind...), that game up in Madison may have been a lot closer.
Meanwhile, up in the Pine Tree State, the Maine Black Bears are off to a strong start in the Colonial Athletic Conference thanks to a 35-7 win over their main rival: New Hampshire. Quarterback Chris Ferguson went 21 of 31 in that win with 199 yards and two TDs. Joe Fitzpatrick and Ramon Jefferson also split carries at running back to combine for 154 yards on the ground. That victory put them up to the #22 spot in the nation according to FCS STATS. If WKU’s defense isn’t careful, Maine is a team that could give them problems.
In order to secure the victory in their home opener, WKU will have to improve on a few key things from last week. For one, the receiving corps has to be more consistent. Xavier Lane in particular had a few massive drops in the Wisconsin game that were big momentum killers. Speaking of momentum killers, cutting down on offensive line penalties would also be a step in the right direction. Finally, if they can get an effective rushing game going to balance out the pass game, this should be a convincing win.
It may seem like I’m harping a lot on the offense, but I was pretty impressed with how the defense played against Wisconsin. WKU picked up three sacks on Alex Hornibrook and an All-American O-Line and the secondary defended several deep passes that could have made that game really ugly. The run defense has room to improve, but it’s tough to say how much when we’ve only seen them play a Heisman candidate like Jonathan Taylor so far.
Western obviously has a long way to go, but I’m not feeling an upset here. Maine’s passing attack is good, but the Tops’ veteran defensive backs should be able to hold them in check, especially if the defensive line applies pressure the way that they did against Wisconsin. The WKU offense just has to score points.
Western Kentucky wins this one 28-14.