The Willie Taggart era officially begins for WKU at Nebraska. It's a big game for both teams, looking to start the season off right. The Huskers are ranked No. 8 in the AP pre-season poll, while the Toppers are simply looking for positives riding a 20-game losing streak. The oddsmakers have put WKU as a 39-point underdog, but can the Tops beat the spread or even more? Each week, InsideHilltopperSports.com will compile the three biggest keys on each side of the ball to keep WKU in the game:
Get Bobby Rainey the ball: This one might be stating the obvious, but WKU has to set the tone by letting Rainey do what he does best: have the ball in his hands in open space. Rainey is explosive and has the ability to break a big play at any time by making people miss. WKU needs to get him the ball through handoffs, tosses, screens and mix them up well.
Give Kawaun Jakes time in the pocket: Jakes showed last year that he has the abilities needed to be the everyday quarterback. But Jakes is still young and still learning. He'll need all the help he can get from Rainey, but maybe more importantly, his offensive line. The line is definitely more experienced this season, but still has a lot to prove after allowing 40 sacks last season. They've taken a solidarity approach thus far by refusing to speak to the media until the Toppers win. Let's see how that translates on the field.
Use tight end Jack Doyle as much as possible: For all the talk Rainey gets and deservedly so, Doyle is easily as important to the offense because of how versatile he is. Doyle has the surest hands of any receiver and is dependable for the big grab over the middle or even split out. Jakes will need to lean on Doyle to get the passing game going and be his security blanket in big situations.
Get pressure on the quarterback early: No one outside of the team will know who Nebraska will be starting at quarterback until gametime tonight. But of the three candidates, only Zac Lee has considerable experience and he struggled at times last season. WKU will need to get pressure on whoever will be under center and do it early so the QB won't be able to get into much of a rhythm.
Linebacker depth: This isn't so much a weak spot as a cause for concern because of the lack of bodies here. Starter Josh Carter leaving the team over the summer didn't help and though the addition of JUCO transfer Tenerio Davis was a good pick up, matters were worsened with the loss of sophomore Chuck Franks for the year with a torn MCL and ACL. The current linebackers are more than capable, but it'll be interesting to see how WKU will manage should injuries or something else set in.
Contain the ball carrier: This is mainly due to the large amount of big plays the defense gave up last year. The secondary needs to do a good job of reading, reacting and containing the ball carrier before they're looking at his backside. The defensive backs have looked better in fall camp, now let's see how that translates at Memorial Stadium.
We'll be on the sideline for all the action and after the game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's extensive post-game, with a full game wrap and audio from coach Willie Taggart