Time and Date: Saturday, September 19 at Noon ET
Location: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium
Spread: Western Kentucky (-14.5)
All-time series: Liberty leads, 2-0
Last meeting: Liberty 23, Western Kentucky 14 — 1996
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers began their season last weekend with a loss to the Louisville Cardinals that was, in many ways, disappointing for Tops fans. They did make a few heads-up plays on special teams and Tyrell Pigrome got his first touchdown under his belt as a Top.
Liberty have yet to play a game this season. The FBS Independent lost a lot of talent on offense and with an offseason drastically affected by COVID-19, it stands to reason it may take them a minute to settle in. Time will tell as these two programs face each other in a midday match-up on national television.
Western Kentucky Outlook
WKU put up 21 points last week in a loss to Louisville. 14 of those points can be attributed to capitalizing on mistakes by Louisville’s punt unit deep in Cardinal territory. Pigrome picked up a touchdown pass late in the fourth quarter as well.
There are high expectations for the Tops defense in 2020, but they didn’t do a great job on third down in particular against the Cardinals. Louisville was able to go 9/16 on third down while the Tops were just 4/12 in that department. Defending C-USA DPOY DeAngelo Malone led the way in that contest with seven tackles and a sack.
WKU will also likely need a boost from the running game after last season’s workhorse, Gaej Walker only picked up nine carries against Louisville.
Liberty are replacing a starting quarterback, a running back, a key wide receiver, and several offensive lineman from last season’s team that finished 8-5.
Quarterback Malik Willis, who spent some time at Auburn in a past life, could prove interesting and could be exactly what the Flames need thanks to his dual-threat capabilities. Hugh Freeze likes him some up-tempo offense, so it will be intriguing to see how Willis handles it.
Defensively, they should pick up right where they left off...which is to say a bit undersized and not great against the run. Former Charlotte 49er linebacker Anthony Butler will be interesting to watch, in that regard.
That added week of competition will likely serve the Tops very well. On top of that, Liberty’s inexperienced offense will have to deal with the likes of DeAngelo Malone. Expect WKU to make a few mistakes, but ultimately they should earn a victory in their home opener.
Prediction: WKU 21, Liberty 13