WKU kicks off its first season as a full-fledged member of both the Football Bowl Subdivision and the Sun Belt Conference in Knoxville against the Volunteers of Tennessee tomorrow with an 11:21 AM CT kickoff. The Toppers face new coach Lane Kiffin and a team that still is somewhat of an unknown as to what they'll present. Each week, InsideHilltopperSports.com will compile the three biggest keys on each side of the ball to come out on top:
Get The Tight Ends Involved: As we've said before, the tight end is the most versatile weapon the offense has. Redshirt freshman Jack Doyle and sophomore Tristan Jones could spend several series in the game at the same time and should get more than a few balls their way. WKU also shouldn't be afraid to spread out the field as well with them, throwing a few deep balls.
Contain the pass rush: Said a few times now, the offensive line has some question marks. It'll be on them though to give senior quarterback Brandon Smith ample time to throw the ball. If Smith can't get anything off, it shuts down what the run game can do. The Toppers saw last year what a defunct passing game can do, as opponents routinely stuffed the box.
Use the versatility of the running game: Three running backs with three different styles will be huge to any offense the Toppers generate, with seniors Tyrell Hayden and Marell Booker and sophomore Bobby Rainey. Hayden might be depended on even more with Rainey and Booker perhaps not at a hundred percent and he'll have to keep the running game respectable.
Get Pressure On Tennessee QB Jonathan Crompton: For as much attention as WKU's overall unproven defense has gotten, people seem to forget that a lot returns from at what times was an extremely anemic offense for Tennessee. Yes, it's a new offense under Kiffin, but they'll still have to prove they're better than last year's team that scored 14 points or less seven times and single digit points four times.
Let Tennessee prove it can throw the ball: This means WKU will have to cut down on the run game to force Tennessee to throw. The Volunteers are limited at wide receiver, most notably with the loss of junior wide receiver Gerald Jones. It's yet to be seen how effective Tennessee can be without some of its top receiving threats.
True freshman Jamal Forrest can't get too rattled: Forrest will no doubt get picked on when Tennessee throws the ball. He is, after all, a true freshman. WKU's offense has gone after him in practice and he's been up to the challenge. He'll have to continue that solid play if the Toppers can force more through the air. If he gets caught up, the plan to force the pass could backfire.
After the game, catch InsideHilltopperSports.com's extensive post-game, with a full game wrap and audio from coach David Elson