Old and New faces combine to lead Hilltoppers hot start

WKU Athletics/WKU Basketball

Coming up short for the second consecutive year in last years C-USA title game left many Hilltopper fans baffled. The same thing had happened the year before, and that team had more talent than the first. Top 10 recruit Charles Bassey stunned the country by choosing WKU, Taveion Hollingsworth was back for his sophomore year along with Josh Anderson. LaMonte Bearden was back for a senior campaign alongside graduate transfer Desean Murray. Not to mention a talented recruiting class behind Bassey. There was one player who was missing, the glue guy as most would say, Justin Johnson. The home state kid wore his heart on his sleeve every time he touched the floor. With the talent increase but confusing results, WKU looked lost without Johnson, who graduated and plays professionally in Italy. Just basing it off the first two games of the season thus far, it looks as if head coach Rick Stansbury, who fought plenty of roster turnover this offseason, has found his guys; both coming via transfer. Carson Williams and Cameron Justice. These two helped lead the way to victories over Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.

Against Tennessee Tech in the Hilltopper’s opener Williams immediately showed his versatility. The 6’5 230 pound junior has been learning Stansbury’s style for a year now, transferring from Northern Kentucky before last season. In his first official appearance in Diddle Arena, Williams put up 16 points on 60% shooting to go with 9 boards, one dime, two steals and two blocks. He showed hustle on every play, crashing the glass to beat defenders for a board. Justice also proved to be a reliable shooter, knocking down two threes on his way to 15 points. Against Austin Peay Justice shot 8-10 from the floor including 5 three pointers to way of 22 points. Williams posted a modest 12-6-4 stat line in the same game. While not the two most talented players, both excel in their own areas. Justice is a knockdown shooter whereas Williams is a physical matchup for anyone who shows respectable offense and defense.

Of course, Charles Bassey returned for a sophomore season in hopes of boosting his draft stock as well as leading the Hilltoppers to a C-USA title and ultimately a run in March Madness. Bassey scored 16 and 10 respectively in the two opening games while pulling down 9 and twelve boards in the contest. With one double-double already he looks to has started where he left off last year. While the offense has a hard time finding Bassey inside (Not another year of this…) he looked solid in both contests. He had trouble finding a rhythm and getting tough shots to fall. IMO Bassey provides his value on the defensive end of the floor with 3 blocks and a steal already this season. He has put on muscle and looks the part, showing uber athleticism. He did go down early in the Austin Peay game but returned shortly after. This is where WKU could face problems. If Bassey deals with foul trouble or injuries, they will be shorthanded at the position. Matthew Horton and freshman Isaiah Cozart would replace Bassey if need be, but it doesnt look to be in Stansbury’s immediate plans. Horton did not appear in either game, but Cozart showed promise in limited minutes, scoring a bucket in each as well as showing physicality and looking the part on a D1 team.

Guard play should be the strength on this team by the end of the year. Given that Kenny Cooper has yet to be cleared by the NCAA to play this year, it allows experimentation of lineups featuring Hollingsworth, Justice, freshman Jordan Rawls, Jared Savage and Josh Anderson. Hollingsworth, Savage and Justice have recieved the starts thus far. Hollingsworth has been the primary PG when Rawls is not in the game. While he is better suited to play off ball, he demonstrated his passing ability with several behind the back and no look passes in the opener. Against APSU he found his rhythm offensively, scoring 21 points. He knocked down two threes and attacked driving lanes and getting to the free throw line where he was 9/10. He also grabbed 7 boards and 3 assists. Savage has looked good defensively but his 20% 3 point percentage certainly leaves room for improvement. The best part about this lineup is the pressure in forces on top. The long wingspans and help defense clog up all passing lanes, making it difficult for their opponents to get into a rhythm. Rawls went for 8 points and 5 assists Saturday, taking 4 shots and hitting 3 of them, including two threes late in the game. He looks to takeover this team at the PG position whether it be this year or next.

The Hilltoppers look to stay on course on a trip to Richmond this Friday to face the Eastern Kentucky Colonels. EKU runs a fast paced offense that focuses on getting lots of shots up, so this should give us an idea for how WKU can control their pace while in a true road environment. Until then the #FreeKennyCooper train will be on the lookout and hoping to add another big threat to this Western backcourt.

WKU reaches bowl eligibility in blowout win over Arkansas | WKU Connection

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

Western Kentucky graduate transfer Ty Storey is no stranger to Razorback Stadium in Fayetteville Arkansas, but Saturday he experienced a new first on that field; a win. He appeared in 15 games over three seasons with Arkansas, starting nine a year ago, but he never won a game as a starter. From the opening kick you could tell he had the leadership and energy to fire his teammates and finally walk off a winner. WKU showed poise on both sides of the ball against an SEC opponent, regardless of their record. This led to a 49-19 beatdown on the road that ensures them a 13th game.

Opening the game, Western Kentucky’s Antwon Kincade picked off the Hogs second pass of the game, giving WKU the early momentum they would not relinquish. The ensuing drive would set the pace for the game as Storey and Co steadily marched down the field, converting two fourth downs before Jacquez Sloan took the double option handoff 19 yards for the Toppers first score. Shortly afterward Arkansas RB Rakeem Boyd broke through the Hilltopper line for a 76 yard touchdown that would be their lone score of the half. Western Kentucky meanwhile, would get 7 on each of their remaining four drives in the first half. Ty Storey ran in touchdowns in each of the next two drives, on his way to 77 yards rushing. Jacour Pearson got in on the fun the next time around, getting wide open in route to a 69 yard touchdown pass from Storey, who finished with 213 yards and one touchdown passing, as well as protecting the ball and not taking any sacks. Gaej Walker pushed the score to 35-7 to go to the locker room on his lone touchdown run of the day, but put up 129 rushing yards on the day to lead his team. Pearson led all WR with 10 catches for 120 yards, including a few early fourth downs. Lucky Jackson added 7 catches for 70 yards.

Defensively, the Tops looked to be their old selves for the most part. Two 70+ yard runs by Rakeem Boyd are the only reason this game looked as respectable as it did, and even they were blemished by missed PATs qnd a two point conversion. After Kincade’s interception to start the game, Devon Key one upped him by catching a bad pass and running it in for the Tops lone TD in the second half. WKU was able to contain Arkansas all game no matter who they played. Cory Munson, the kicker, was perfect today with one field goal and six PAT. His best play of the game though might not even be a kick. After kicking a squib kick down the middle, Munson raced to the returner before tackling him on the Arkansas 14 yard line. It was an all around good day for the Tops.

With bowl eligibility already in grasp and a quarterback who is one of the most accurate in all of College football, WKU will look to stay explosive on offense and precise on defense. Next week the Hilltoppers have a bye before traveling to Mississippi to take on the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles before closing the season out at home vs. MTSU.

Can the Hilltoppers Stay Hot? Previewing Western Kentucky vs. Marshall

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

It all started in 2014 in Huntington, WV when Brandon Doughty threw a two point conversion in overtime to ruin Marshall’s perfect season. This marked Western Kentucky’s first season in the Conference USA and started a new rivalry between the two schools known as the Moonshine Throwdown. WKU would claim wins the next two seasons before Marshall came out on top in the last two games. Western holds a lead in the series 3-2 since 2014. They will travel to the same field in which this rivalry was born hoping to walk away victorious once again. Marshall appears to be a top three team Tyson Helton’s squad has faced thus far. They sit at 4-3 on the year coming off a nice win over FAU. Until then Marshall had little to show with losses to Boise State, Middle Tennessee and a blowout vs Cincinnati.

Marshall Offense vs. Western Kentucky Defense

Marshall is led on offense by Sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green. Green shows plenty of potential but has been wildly inconsistent this year. He has thrown 10 touchdowns and 6 interceptions. The Herd move the ball quite well, but turnovers have kept points off the board. They have fumbled 6 times this season and lost three in addition to multiple turnover on downs. Marshall’s strength on offense is its run game, led by Brendon Knox who has 719 yards and seven scores on the year. This match-up between Western’s defense and Marshall’s run game will be a key factor to watch in the game. WKU allows 110 rush yards a game to this point, giving up only 3.1 yards per carry. DeAngelo Malone and Kyle Bailey face a tough task in stopping Knox who is fresh off a 220 yard performance. This WKU defense is as good as it has looked in a long time and has 15 sacks on the year. This should be a good war in the trenches between the two teams as Marshall has given up 12 sacks this year. Marshall’s passing game presents its biggest tests by way of their tight ends. Armani Levias is the Herd’s leading receiver with 269 yards. He proves to be difficult to tackle as he stands 6’4 245 lbs and can run and catch like a receiver. Xavier Gains is the other tight end who has 20 catches for 195 yards and 2 TDs. Given WKU’s pass rush, expect a bunch of quick passes to these two. 15 different players have caught a pass for Marshall thus far, but Western’s secondary has looked great the past month.

Western Kentucky Offense vs Marshall Defense

Since Tyson Helton was hired, it was expected Western Kentucky would return an explosive offense like the ones he coordinated here just a few years ago. Until last week it seemed like that would not be the case, but the Hilltoppers put up 351 yards and 3 touchdowns on homecoming against Charlotte. This featured a flea flicker for a touchdown as well as Ty Storey catching a touchdown from Lucky Jackson. If this offense can stay hot and throw the ball it could have a good shot at winning. Marshall has 15 sacks in their last two games. They present a dominant line that can stop the run and get after the quarterback. The good news is they have struggled with running quarterbacks, so I expect some options and quick passes from WKU to keep Marshall honest early. That being said, they struggle in the secondary with only three interceptions all year. If Lucky Jackson or Jacour Pearson gets in space it could be a productive game for them. Gaej Walker will have his hands full but has proved he is a reliable rusher. Tavonte Beckett leads the Herd with 65 tackles and two sacks this year and Darius Hodge has 6 sacks so far. Western will have their hands full with this pass rush.

Special Teams

Marshall kicker Justin Rohrwasser has been reliable for the Herd all season going a perfect 7/7 on his field goals. He has missed only one PAT in 22 tries. Marshall does present a weakness in its kickoff coverage which gives Garland LaFrance and Clayton Bush an opportunity to set up good field position. On the Tops side, Cory Munson has been as reliable a kicker as WKU has had in a few years. He has struggled with accuracy but shows plenty of potential and plenty of leg strength.

In Vegas

Marshall sits as a 5.5 point favorite over WKU. The over/under is 45.

My Pick

I expect this to be a defensive battle for the most part. Whichever offense can hit its stride first will have a great advantage. I expect a close game, most likely whoever has the ball last. Western at 5.5 seems like a good take win or lose. This WKU defense will prove it is legit and stay undefeated in C-USA play.

Western Kentucky 20 Marshall 13

Underdog Mentality carries Hilltoppers to win over Army | WKU Connection

WKU Athletics/WKU Football

Western Kentucky came into this game feeling disrespected. They had won two games in a row and were a long way from that opening night loss to Central Arkansas. Still, they were a 6.5 point dog in Las Vegas while playing on their home field. That was all the motivation Tyson Helton’s squad needed, scoring on their second drive of the game and never giving the lead up. In fact, they held Army and its triple option scoreless for 58 minutes before a non factor touchdown and conversion destroyed the shutout. This is the same Army team who took Michigan to overtime and has received Top 25 votes already this season. Some might even call this performance dominating, and even Coach Helton, who doesn’t like that word, had trouble coming up with a better word to describe the victory.

Coming into the game, the big question was whether or not Clayton Whites defense could stop the triple option attack Army runs. It was known that the Hilltopper’s strength lies on that side of the ball, but this performance all but proved the legitimacy of the defense on a national level as the Hilltopper’s hold the nations number 17 team in total defense. WKU allowed only 208 total yards and were legitimately mad they allowed a score at the end of the game.

Hilltoppers slay Dragons 20-13 | WKU Connection

Image via: WKU Athletics

Ty Storey, the grad transfer from Arkansas, got his first start at quarterback following Steven Duncan’s season ending injury. Storey did exactly as he needed to do, which was control the ball and give the defense a break. The defense stepped up HUGE in this game, combining for four interceptions of UAB quarterback Tyler Johnston. They stayed in the backfield all night, forcing 8 tackles for loss. This game was tied at 3, 10, and 13, but the Hilltoppers were able to score last giving them the W in front of a good crowd at the Houch.

Storey completed 15/24 passes for 189 yards and two touchdowns, having no turnovers. He looked comfortable in the offense and made good reads, opting for the quick pass most of the night. He was also called to run 13 times, making him the leading rusher in attempts and yards with 26. Rushing was otherwise a letdown as Gaej Walker fumbled on the Hilltopper’s first play from scrimmage and never looked like he did the first two weeks of the season. He finished with just 19 yards with his longest rush being 5 yards. Walker’s fumble led to a quick field goal by UAB but WKU quickly tied it up after Kyle Bailey recorded his first pick of the night. The two teams would trade touchdowns next, with Storey hitting receiver Joshua Simon for an eight yard score. Corey Munson kicked his second field goal of the game and the Tops went to the break up a score. A touchdown pass to Jacour Pearson gave the Hilltopper’s the lead for good to start the 4th. Pearson finished with five grabs for 94 yards, including a 50 yard grab.

Defensively, this is the best the Hilltoppers have looked all season. A secondary that has looked non-existent at times stepped up huge. Kyle Bailey had two interceptions and Trae Meadows and Jeremy Darvin each added one. Devon Key and DeAngelo Malone paced the defense, putting up 12 and 10 tackles respectively. Malone also posted 2 sacs and 3 tackles for loss on his own. Overall, the defense controlled the game allowing the offense to play conservative in order to beat an undefeated UAB squad. This win kept WKU atop the C-USA leaderboard with a 2-0 conference record. The Toppers will travel to Old Dominion next week looking to avenge their loss in Bowling Green last year that ended about as wildly as you could imagine.

Louisville too much for Western Kentucky, Toppers fall 38-21

Western Kentucky entered Saturday’s match up in Nashville wanting to prove they belonged on the same field as their Power 5 foe in Louisville. It was evident early on that Louisville was the more talented team, even playing without starting Quarterback Jawon Pass. Despite the Cardinals controlling the game early, the Hilltoppers did not go down easy. Quarterback Steven Duncan played the entirety of the game despite injuring his foot in the second half. He looked much improved, finishing the game with a career high 3 touchdowns and no interceptions. His accuracy was still low, as he finished 25/47 on the day, but he is not all to blame for that. The one costly mistake was a fumble by Duncan near the end of the first half that was returned for a touchdown.

The expectation was that Western Kentucky would continue to dominantly run the football after Gaej Walker posted two consecutive performances of 100 yards. Walker carried the ball 14 times for only 41 yards, with his longest run being 7 yards. Instead it was another freshman who gave the offense its first score when Joshua Simon caught his only pass and took it 77 yards to the house. Overall, the offense was able to put up points but unable to get in any rythm. They converted only 4-16 third downs.

The defense for Western Kentucky looked more like it did week one vs. UCA than it did in last weeks victory over FIU. Louisville quickly established a ground game behind quarterback Malik Cunningham and never looked back. Javian Hawkins led the way with 93 of Louisville’s 210 yard on the ground. They were also able to find success against WKU’s secondary for 205 yards on ten catches. Western was unable to cover Louisville star reciever Tutu Atwell as he caught four passes for 141 yards and three touchdowns.

While an overall rough day for the defense, it was highlighted by Devon Key and DeAngelo Malone, who each finished with 10 tackles. Key also recovered a fumble to start the second half. The Hilltoppers front seven looked solid in pass rush, tallying 3 sacks on 16 pass attempts, but Louisville controlled the game on the ground. “They overpowered us,” coach Helton said after the game, speaking of the Louisville offense.

Western Kentucky comes off this loss into a bye week. The Hilltoppers now have film against a power opponent, no matter the caliber in national rankings. Expect Western Kentucky to tighten up their defense and keep building a rhythm on offense. This game offered a non conference test for WKU, who even with a loss, gained valuable experience in an otherwise meaningless game. Western Kentucky still sits alone atop the C-USA standings.

Helton gets first win as Hilltoppers defeat Panthers 20-14 | WKU Connection

Western Kentucky (1-1) went into tonight’s match up ranked 130th out of 130 teams, good for dead last in the FBS. They traveled to Florida International (0-2) to open up Conference USA play. Western Kentucky took care of business early, forcing a missed field goal and driving 78 yards for a touchdown and pulled some tricks out of the bag early with an onside kick the Hilltopper’s recovered on the ensuing kickoff. An interception thrown by Steven Duncan was picked off and returned 80 yards for a touchdown. It was one of two turnovers for Duncan, who finished 19/33 for 241 yards and a touchdown. A Gaej Walker touchdown gave the Toppers a lead they would hold for the rest of the game. The second half was a defensive battle as the Toppers were limited to a pair of field goals by Cory Munson. They were able to run out the clock and return to Bowling Green with a 20-14 win against a preseason favorite in the division.

Game Notes:

  • Quarterback Steven Duncan struggled with accuracy tonight. He led a good drive in the first quarter that resulted in a touchdown. Both interceptions were bad decisions, but the pick-6 was a great play by Florida International’s Richard Dames. Given that Coach Helton stuck with Duncan through the whole game tonight, if he can keep winning, the job is his.
  • Gaej Walker finished with 100 yards rushing for the second time this season in as many games. He also added the go-ahead touchdown.
  • Veteran Leadership carried the offense as Senior Lucky Jackson made many tough catches on his way to 93 yards, Including a 48 yard reception to set up Western Kentucky’s first touchdown.
  • Junior Kyle Fourtenbary also carried the load with five catches for 74 yards, including a 28 yard catch to spark a scoring drive to start the second half.
  • The defense led the Hilltoppers to a win, holding the Panthers to only five complete passes for 66 yards. While they didn’t force any turnovers, they forced FIU to run the ball. They held them to only two third down conversions

Overall, the Hilltoppers found a way to win an ugly game. They played with a lead and showed promise on offense. As Duncan adjusts to the new offense, he has plenty of weapons to work with. The defense looked great and we didn’t miss a field goal, so nothing to worry about that cannot be fixed.