LEXINGTON, Ky. – University of Kentucky defensive coordinator Rick Minter and offensive coordinator Randy Sanders talked after practice Tuesday about a talented and experienced Western Kentucky University team that will enter Commonwealth Stadium on Saturday at 7 p.m. ET.
The Hilltoppers are coming off a loss at top-ranked Alabama last Saturday after opening up the season with an impressive 49-10 victory over Austin Peay. WKU has won eight of its last 10 games, dating back to last season, with the only losses coming at Alabama and at LSU. The Hilltoppers return 19 starters to the field from last season. This marks the third-consecutive season UK has played WKU after winning in 2010 in Lexington and 2011 at LP Field in Nashville.
Minter said after practice Tuesday that the simplifying of the defense last week was “much better.” Minter said a lot of players got reps in the Kent State game, which should pay dividends moving forward, especially this week against a talented WKU team.
“We are going to be challenged this week with a hard-nosed physical football team and we have to answer that challenge,” Minter said.
Part of the challenge for Minter and Co. this weekend will be senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who has completed 38-of-54 for 474 yards and four touchdowns this season. Jakes ranks second in the Sun Belt and 24th nationally in passing efficiency at 161.14 rating points, while also ranking fifth in the Sun Belt and tied for 56th nationally in total offense at 238.0 yards per game. Minter said that type of leadership and experience at quarterback always makes an offense better.
“Well for one thing, you are looking at a senior and a guy who has been in that system for three years,” Minter said. “It is always tough to play veteran quarterbacks, as we all know here. You remember those years that you had a senior quarterback and how well your offense has a chance to function. I am sure that is what they are counting on. They have some good young runners around him. They try to get the ball to the guys that can make plays and the quarterback does that. He gets the ball where it belongs. He doesn’t get sacked very often because they time release the ball so fast. They do enough run actions to keep him on the edge and use his legs wisely. They don’t run him a great deal as an option-style quarterback but it is there every now and again if they want to take a shot at it. For the most part he is a wise veteran who knows who to get the ball to.”
Experience is also the key to WKU’s defense as 16 upperclassmen fill the two-deep depth chart for the Hilltoppers defensively. Sanders said one of the keys for Kentucky will be to neutralize a talented WKU defensive front that had six sacks and eight tackles-for-loss last week against the top-ranked Crimson Tide. The Hilltoppers’ defense ranks 12th nationally, sitting in the top 10 in the nation in pass defense and sacks.
“I would think it has their attention,” Sanders said about UK’s offensive line facing WKU’s talented front. “They are good pass rushers and they have a very experienced group up front. They have guys that have played a lot of football and a lot of the same names we played a few years ago up here when they were young. Now they have grown up and matured and it’s a challenge. They do a nice job of pushing the edge. They aren’t a huge blitz team, but they do blitz some. It’s going to be a challenge for our backs to pick it up and for our quarterback to see. They have a good defensive football team, no question. It’s going to be a big test for us this week and we are going to have to come out and make plays.”
On the injury front, Sanders said that senior tailback Coshik Williams did practice Tuesday after missing the Kent State game because of injury. Sanders said the good thing about Williams not playing last week was how fresh his legs looked in practice. Phillips said Monday at his weekly news conference that Williams was probable.