Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (0-0) vs Austin Peay Governors (0-0)
Time and Date: Noon ET, 11 AM CT
Broadcast Network: CBS Sports Network
Location: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium - Bowling Green, KY
ESPN FPI: WKU 94.5%
All-Time Series: WKU and Austin Peay have played twice this century, with the Tops taking the contests in 2012 and 2006, both in Bowling Green. Dating back to 1940, WKU leads the all-time series 35-6-1.
Note: If you’re looking for betting info on this game, none of the major books have odds on this one. This story will be updated if that changes.
The season begins for a Western Kentucky team that fell just short of a Conference USA title in 2021 thanks, in large part, to stellar quarterback play. Even with some tweaks in their air raid (that isn’t an air raid, per head coach Tyson Helton) and three co-offensive coordinators, the passing game will once again be important. Austin Reed, a transfer from West Florida and form DII national champion, was named the team’s starting quarterback earlier this month after a battle for the job in fall camp against Jarret Doege, who has now transferred to Troy. Doege is the active NCAA D1 leader in Yards (10,494) and Touchdowns (79).
Despite Doege’s accolades, Reed is, obviously, impressive in his own right, being a solid scrambler and definitely not afraid of the deep ball. That could work very well with deep-threat receivers in his pocket such as Daewood Davis and the Akron transfer Michael Mathison.
WKU quarterback Austin Reed makes the most of his first rep, connecting with tight end River Helms for a huge gain. pic.twitter.com/blcQmkI5lo— Drew Toennies (@drew_toennies) April 23, 2022
Defensively, WKU is looking for improvement from a veteran group led by defensive end Juwuan Jones and a touted cornerback in Kahlef Hailasse. WKU allowed 29.4 points per game in 2021 and 268.1 passing yards per game last season. At C-USA Media Day, Tyson Helton spoke to us about improving his defense.
“We’re going to be a little more aggressive defensively this year,” Helton said. “New defensive coordinator. A lot of new faces, both players and coaches. But I like the style of play that we’re playing. I think it forces the quarterback to make decisions. It forces the quarterback to have to beat you. Being a quarterback guy, that’s how I want to play defense.”
For Austin Peay, an FCS program coming off a 6-5 season in 2021, momentum is the name of the game. Head coach Scotty Walden led the team to three consecutive wins to cap last season, which was the Governors’ last in the Ohio Valley Conference. They now play in the Atlantic Sun Conference.
There’s tons of questions surrounding Austin Peay’s offense, including what to expect from the quarterback position. Their starter from last season is now at Tennessee State. Keep an eye on grad transfer Mike Diliello, who arrived this offseason from Middle Tennessee State and has experience versus the Hilltoppers. Also, former Western Kentucky leading rusher Josh Samuel makes his return to the Bowling Green as the lead back for the Governors.
I will say, Austin Peay’s defense is intriguing in this matchup. The Governors led FCS in interceptions with 19 in 2021. Safety Shamari Simmons had four interceptions and broke up ten passes, plus one forced fumble and one fumble recovery last season. Keep an eye on number eight for the Govs as he does his best to thwart Austin Reed’s DI debut.
While Austin Peay might be moving in a good direction, Western Kentucky simply has too much offensive power to stub their toe in week one. My prediction is that WKU takes this one 35-14.