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WKU offense hopes to avoid “lackadaisical” start against UTSA

Published: Oct. 9, 2021 at 11:26 AM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - The WKU Hilltoppers football team boasts the best total offense in the C-USA at 520 yards per game – but the Tops focus has been working to get that going early on Saturday against UTSA.

Despite the strong numbers from the Tops’ offense led by quarterback Bailey Zappe and his wide receiver and longtime friend Jerreth Sterns, players, especially Sterns, haven’t shied away from strong self-criticism.

“When we come out, I feel like our walkthroughs are lackadaisical,” Sterns said after practicing this week.

That’s not the first time that the word “lackadaisical” has been uttered by the Tops’ offense. After WKU’s (1-3) narrow 33-31 loss to Indiana on Sep. 25, wide receiver Malachi Corley echoed the same exact sentiment after the game.

“I feel like we come out a little lackadaisical sometimes,” Corley said. “That’s something we need to work on fixing.”

Corley and Sterns are pointing out to several different issues: The Tops haven’t scored on their first four drives in each of their four games. Consequently, WKU has been outscored in the first quarter this year, 42-17.

“We’ve struggled on that. So that’s another point of emphasis. Let’s score first,” WKU offensive coordinator Zach Kittley said.

That approach will come handy come against the top rushing defense in the C-USA. The UTSA Roadrunners have only allowed about 71 rushing yards per game. As a result, they’re sitting at a historic 5-0 record that comes with wins over Power Five opponent Illinois and the Memphis Tigers.

But the Tops say they’re confident that they can show the Roadrunners why they’re a force to be reckoned with.

“We’re an explosive offense. We haven’t been chased yet. That comes down to me and helping Bailey [Zappe] and the receivers get into better situations.”

Zappe, recently named to the Maxwell Award watchlist, has completed 72.7 percent of his passes for 1,712 yards and 16 touchdowns, compared to only two interceptions. His 428-yard passing average leads all FBS quarterbacks, with the next-closest being Virginia’s Brennan Armstrong at 394.6 yards.

This week, he’s made sure that his receivers are on the same page that led Zappe to those eye-popping numbers.

“It’s hard to get warm when you’re out there. But he [Zappe] pushes everybody,” Sterns said.

Aside from practicing different formations and routes that can aid Zappe in early drives, all in all, the team says everything comes down to “taking a deep breath” and playing with calm.

“We got to work hard and execute each play. That’s how we can start games - by doing that,” Tops’ receiver Mitchell Tinsley said.

WKU will look to avoid a 1-4 start and salvage its season against the Roadrunners on Saturday back home at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. Kickoff against UTSA is at 6 p.m. CT.

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