2011 Western Kentucky Preview – Offense
WKU RB Bobby Rainey
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Western Kentucky Hilltopper Offense
Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: The offense might have sputtered at inexplicable times – six points against North Texas is unforgiveable – but it was effective running the ball with Bobby Rainey establishing himself as one of the nation's premier workhorses. The key to the 2011 attack is finding more options to work into the running rotation and to get more out of a miserable passing game. Kawaun Jakes is a veteran, but he needs to become a more efficient passer and a better all-around playmaker. Marcus Vasquez and tight end Jack Doyle will anchor an improved receiving corps, while tackle Wes Jeffries leads a big line that can run block that needs to be far better in pass protection.
Star of the offense: Senior RB Bobby Rainey
Passing: Kawaun Jakes
149-291, 1,680 yds, 10 TD, 6 INT
Rushing: Bobby Rainey
340 carries, 1,649 yds, 15 TD
Receiving: Marcus Vasquez
30 catches, 332 yds, 3 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore WR Neil Wilson
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore C Sean Conway
Best pro prospect: Rainey
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Rainey, 2) OT Wes Jeffries, 3) TE Jack Doyle
Strength of the offense: Running Game, Experience
Weakness of the offense: No. 2 Running Back, No. 2 Receiver
State of the Unit: The WKU passing game finished last in the Sun Belt and 115th in the nation averaging just 143.5 yards per game, and it was also last in the conference and 107th in the country in passing efficiency. As a team, the Hilltoppers threw for just 1,722 yards with 11 touchdown and six picks, and while it's not going to be bombs away this year, the efficiency needs to be there.
Junior Kawaun Jakes had a few nice moments, throwing for 262 yards against Louisiana and 221 against South Florida, but he only threw for 1,680 yards and ten touchdowns with six picks and finished second on the team in rushing with 200 yards and four scores. The 6-3, 190-pound former wide receiver moves well and has a good enough arm to get by, but he needs to be making plays on the move. There weren't any problems with an injured ankle suffered last offseason playing pickup basketball, and he has proven to be a durable, athletic playmaker who has the potential to do more with the offense. Now he has to come up with more big plays and be more efficient.
6-3, 205-pound redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty is a pure passer with a live, accurate arm and just enough athleticism to get by. He's not Jakes on the move, but he's just consistent enough and just effective enough to potentially be a good fill-in if injuries strike. The Miami native could use a few live reps, but he's a ready-to-go No. 2.
Watch Out For … Jakes to be more effective. The WKU offense is based around running the ball, and Jakes will be a part of that, but he knows what he's doing and he should start doing more to keep the chains moving.
Strength: Jakes' experience. One of the keys to the attack will be all the time logged in over the last few years by Jakes. He might not have been all that great last year, and he wasn't consistent, but he's a solid veteran the coaching staff can trust and rely on.
Weakness: Backup experience. There isn't any. The only other passes attempted last year by anyone other than Jakes came from two running backs. After finishing last in the Sun Belt in passing, Jakes has to produce or the coaching staff might have to come up with other options to get the air attack going.
Outlook: Jakes is the main man, but he has to start coming up with wins and he has to start taking the heat off the running game. He'll take off from time to time, and he has the speed to be dangerous in the open field, but the team's improvement will only come if he can throw for well over 2,000 yards.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: Head coach Willie Taggart knows how to get a running game going, and he did just that as the Hilltoppers ran for almost 2,100 yards with 21 touchdowns finishing 33rd in the nation. All the playmakers are back, but one of them is a quarterback, Kawaun Jakes, and there needs to be more options to keep The Franchise fresh.
Senior Bobby Rainey had a good sophomore season with 939 yards and six touchdowns averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The new coaching staff started feeding him the ball over and over again, and then came the special junior campaign finishing with 1,649 yards and 15 touchdowns finishing third in the nation. Also a decent receiver, he finished second on the team with 29 catches for 230 yards. The problem is his workload with a whopping 340 carries and close to 370 touches, but he was able to hold up well with a strong finishing kick running for 248 yards on 45 carries against Middle Tennessee and 157 yards against Troy. The 5-8, 205-pound veteran is a quick back with a shifty downhill running style who zips through the line in a hurry. He'll be fed the ball over and over again, but he has had problems in the past with a shoulder injury and he needs help from other runners to keep the workload to a reasonable level.
6-0, 235-pound sophomore Keshawn Simpson is a big, strong back who can help carry the load, but he only netted -2 yards on his two carries last season. He's a tough runner who tore off over 2,400 yards and 27 touchdowns as a high school senior. Not just a straight line runner, he has a little bit of shiftiness and could be the type of back who becomes a closer late in games against a worn down defense.
Looking to take away a little bit of the workload is Antonio Andrews, who finished third on the team with 174 yards and two scores as a true freshman. A slippery 6-0 and 194 pounds, he can be used as a receiver or as a shifty runner. He caught five passes for 37 yards, and he has the hands and the ability to do far more.
The offense likes use a fullback more than most teams, and blaster Rod Johnson will be missed. He didn't handle the ball, but he was a good blocker who paved the way for Bobby Raines' big season. 5-11, 267-pound sophomore Kadeem Jones saw time in almost every game and caught one pass and ran it once, but he's purely a blaster of a blocker. Big, athletic, and really, really tough, he'll be just fine in place of Johnson, while 5-11, 254-pound sophomore Nick Baisch got a start against Indiana and saw time in four other games, but he didn't touch the ball. Like all WKU fullbacks, he's big, compact, and tough. The former high school center has no problems hitting.
Watch Out For … a concerted effort to give the ball to other options than Rainey. The Hilltoppers need more players in the mix considering Rainey and Jakes combined for 436 of the team's 500 carries. Simpson and Andrews need to do far more and need to be productive factors when they get the chance.
Strength: Rainey. He's a special back with 2,857 career yards and 22 touchdowns. While it'll be tempting to feed him the ball 30 times a game, the workload has to be kept to a minimum whenever possible to keep him fresh. While he'll have a fight on his hands for the Sun Belt Player of the Year honors, there might not be a more valuable player.
Weakness: Proven backup options. Rainey ran it 340 times and Jakes had 96 carries. Andrews ran it 32 times, and that was effectively it. The coaching staff will get the most out of the backs, but someone needs to emerge in a hurry to help out Rainey.
Outlook: Even with Rainey's special season, the Hilltoppers only finished fourth in the Sun Belt in rushing. As long as at least two other backs see regular time, everything will be fine, but if Rainey gets hurt all bets are off.
Unit Rating: 7.5
State of the Unit: The passing game was along for the ride last year, and while the quarterback play didn't do much to help balance things out, the receivers didn't exactly help the cause. A few young receivers have to become immediate factors, but two good veterans are in place to work around.
Junior Marques Vasquez made 19 catches as a nice reserve in his first season, and he stepped up and became the team's leading receiver as a sophomore with 30 catches for 332 yards and three scores in just nine games. The 6-1, 187-pound outside X receiver has good size and home run hitting potential to do more if the quarterbacks can start getting him the ball. The former quarterback was steady and came up with a season-high eight catches against Louisiana, but he got knocked out for the year with a collarbone injury. He'll be backed up at the X by 6-0, 195-pound redshirt freshman Joel German, an athletic speedster who's a pure deep threat.
6-2, 201-pound Neil Wilson will get the start at the inside Z position after sitting out last year. A big option with good bulk and nice hands, he's a physical target who could grow into a short-range target. Sophomore Jamarielle Brown got a little time last year and started against Indiana, but he only finished the season with one catch for five years. The 6-1, 175-pounder is a good route runner who could push for time in four-wide sets.
Junior Rico Brown will work at the ZE receiver and should do a little of everything. The 5-11, 185-pounder can be a runner and a receiver, and he should become a key playmaker when he gets the ball in his hands on the move. Working in the rotation will be 5-8, 172-pound sophomore Andrew Pettijohn, a promising short-range receiver who can work at any of the receiver spots.
The team's second best pass catching option should be tight end Jack Doyle, a 6-6, 244-pound junior who caught 20 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns before succumbing to a nagging neck injury. With good size and terrific hands, he's a tall, talented receiver who can block a little bit but is at his best as a matchup nightmare. He can outjump most defenders and he could be even more of a playmaker around the goal line if he's used the right way. Backing him up will be 6-4, 247-pound junior Ryan Wallace, who started out his career at Colorado, went to Kentucky, and now will try to kickstart his career at WKU. He was a top tight end talent coming out of high school, and now he should be a decent receiver whenever he gets the chance.
Watch Out For … Vasquez to establish himself as a true No. 1. With Doyle back and healthy, a healthy Vasquez should be free to roam. The receiving corps is better, and that should help Vasquez to do more deep.
Strength: Big players. Doyle is a large receiving tight end who makes himself bigger with his leaping ability. Vasquez, Wilson and Brown lead the rest of the great-sized corps that won't be outmuscled by anyone.
Weakness: The offense and the quarterback play. The Hilltoppers live by running the ball, and while defenses will key on Bobby Rainey and the chances will be there to hit on the deep ball. Now the receivers have to do it, and QB Kawaun Jakes has to be far more consistent.
Outlook: The West Coast offense was supposed to help out the passing game and should've been a huge boon for the receiving corps. It wasn't. The air attack hasn't been consistent in a few years and has mostly been used in comeback mode. Vasquez and Doyle are excellent options to work with, and now more steady targets have to emerge.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The line can blast away for the ground game, but it'll struggle again in pass protection. Three decent starters are back and two of the most important positions at set at left tackle and center. As long as the newcomers can get a push enough to open up a little bit of a hole, they'll be doing their job.
Veteran Wes Jeffries was the key to last year's line as one of the team's top returning leaders. Now the 6-4, 298-pound senior should be an All-Sun Belt performer as the team's best run blocker and a decent enough pass protector to get by. He always struggles with the speed rushers, but he's tough and physical. Working as the understudy is 6-6, 280-pound redshirt freshman Cameron Clemmons, one of the team's best recruits last year and a major coup for the program. He's ready to see time somewhere on the line now, but he'll end up waiting his turn to start next year at left tackle.
Taking over the full-time job at right tackle is Seth White, a 6-5, 287-pound junior who got the starting nod against Louisiana and ULM. A good all-around blocker, he's just tough enough and just athletic enough to grow into the job over the next few years. Adding more size is 6-8, 308-pound sophomore Ed Hazelett, a huge blocker with a great frame, and now the former tight end should grow into a role in the rotation with the potential to play either tackle job.
Back in his starting spot in the middle is 6-3, 297-pound sophomore Sean Conway, a 12-game starter who was among the team's most consistent blockers. He generates a good push for the ground game and he showed enough improvement over the second half of the season to hope for all-star honors this year with a little more consistency.
6-4, 305-pound junior Luke Stansfield saw a little time up front and started against South Florida. One of the team's most talented recruits a few years ago, he got hurt and hasn't been able to regain his form and show what he can do. Now the left guard job is his, while 6-2, 285-pound sophomore Luke Polanco can step in and be decent for the ground game. He's built like a center, but he can play anywhere in the interior.
Back at right guard is 6-5, 334-pound junior Adam Smith is the biggest blocker up front and he knows what he's doing after starting 11 times last year Consistent and occasionally tremendous, he has fringe all-star potential and he should be the one the team runs behind on the inside for the hard yards. 6-3, 262-pound redshirt freshman William Berner is a smaller more athletic option. He can play either guard spot.
Watch Out For … Smith at right guard. He might not be great on the move and he might be a bit lumbering, but he's a big body who can beat up defenders in the running game.
Strength: Run blocking. The coaching staff knows how to get the most out of an offensive line for the ground attack, and there shouldn't be any problems opening up holes for Bobby Rainey and the runners.
Weakness: Pass protection. QB Kawaun Jakes is mobile and tries to make things happen on the move, but he didn't exactly get a lot of time to operate with the line giving up 28 sacks on just 151 passing attempts.
Outlook: With three returning starters and good size across the board, WKU should have one of the Sun Belt's leading ground games once again. The pass protection has to be stronger and consistency is a must, but if Jeffries, Conway, and Smith can improve a bit, the line can be more of a positive.
Unit Rating: 5
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