Bowling Green, Ky. — There were big plays on both sides of the ball Tuesday as the Western Kentucky University football team participated in its second mini-scrimmage of preseason camp at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The offense used four plays of 20 yards or more in recording a touchdown and two field goals, while the defense was able to force four turnovers on 37 plays.
“I told our team that the offense can be very dangerous. We have some weapons, we can move the ball and we have guys who can make big plays,” said head coach David Elson. “At the same time, though, we turned the ball over too much. All that talent and all that playmaking ability does no good if we give the ball to the other team.
“The positive sign for our defense was that they were opportunistic and took advantage of those situations. It’s like spring practice in that what is good for one side is bad for the other.”
A tackle for loss by Bo Smith and L.J. Harbison’s sack helped the defense hold the first-team offense without a first down on the opening series of the mini-scrimmage, but on the second-team’s second play Tyrell Hayden raced down the right sideline for a gain of 53 yards. That run would set up the first points of the afternoon as Chris James connected on a 29-yard field goal three plays later.
Bobby Rainey began the next series with a 27-yard run for the first-team, and Andrew McCloud followed with rushes of 11 and nine yards before Blake Boyd was able to put and end to the drive by recovering a fumbled pitch on the defense’s 30-yard line.
The second-team defense answered with its own turnover when Tim Nelson grabbed a deflected pass and ran it back five yards.
“We have some very good running backs who are hard to tackle, which is good practice for us,” Elson said. “The more repetitions we get trying to tackle them, the better we’ll be throughout the year. And, it’s nice to have depth at that position because the spread offense doesn’t mean we’re going to throw it 90 percent of the time. I feel good about our playmaking ability at the running back position.”
After switching to third-down plays, David Wolke moved the chains on consecutive snaps with completions of 25 yards to Ronnie Letcher and 11 yards to Jessie Quinn before the defense regained control. The first-team did not allow a first down on the next four snaps — Smith and Dusty Bear recorded tackles for loss in that stretch — while the second-team unit didn’t give up a first down until K.J. Black completed a 12-yard pass to Clark Jeter with the offense facing 3rd-and-2. The two Topper offensive units combined to move the chains three times on 12 plays.
The mini-scrimmage ended with four red zone drives that resulted in 10 points. Beginning from the defense’s 25-yard line, the first-team offense needed just two plays to post the only touchdown of the day as Wolke hit Quinterrance Cooper across the middle from 20 yards out. The second-team offense wrapped up the event with a 33-yard James field goal.
In between, Kyle Anderson ended a threat by recovering a fumble on a reverse at the 11-yard line, and Marion Rumph intercepted a pass in the left corner of the end zone.
“When it comes to winning and losing football games, there is no more important statistic than turnover ratio,” Elson said. “We’ll learn from it, and our guys will certainly do a few more ball security drills.”
Earlier in the day, the team took part in its annual media day event, with Elson, assistant coach Kevin Wright, and seniors Curtis Hamilton, James, Rumph and Chris Walker addressing those in attendance.
Elson explained some of the differences in the program since last fall’s announcement that the school is moving up to the NCAA Division I-A (Football Bowl Subdivision) level. “The biggest difference so far is that we have been able to grow our program so quickly from a staffing standpoint to get us to the I-A model of nine full-time assistants, two graduate assistants and a director of operations,” he said. “I have never felt more confident and comfortable going into a preseason, and the reason is the people who are surrounding me. We have hired some great people.”
He also addressed how the team is approaching the 2007 campaign. WKU will not be eligible for the Sun Belt Conference championship or a berth in a bowl game until 2009.
“We want our players to embrace the significance of what is happening. We started talking about making history in the first team meeting after the 2006 season was over,” said Elson. “I have really been encouraged and impressed with the way they have bought into that. We have 11 consecutive winning seasons and we take a lot of pride in the winning tradition of WKU football, which we want to continue.”
The Hilltoppers open the season Sept. 1 at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) at defending national champion Florida in a game that will be televised live regionally by Lincoln Financial Sports.