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2010 Western Kentucky Preview
WKU LB Thomas Majors
WKU LB Thomas Majors
Posted Jun 11, 2010 2010 Preview - Western Kentucky Hilltopper Preview

WKU Hilltoppers

Preview 2010

- 2010 WKU Preview | 2010 WKU Offense
- 2010 WKU Defense | 2010 WKU Depth Chart
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By Pete Fiutak

Head coach: Willie Taggart
1st year
Returning Lettermen:
Off. 19, Def. 23, ST 2
Lettermen Lost: 18
Ten Best WKU Players
1. RB/KR Bobby Rainey, Jr.
2. LB Thomas Majors, Sr.
3. TE Jack Doyle, Soph.
4. SS Mark Santoro, Jr.
5. OT Wes Jeffries, Jr.
6. WR Quinterrance Cooper, Sr.
7. TE Tristan Jones, Jr.
8. DE Jared Clendenin, Jr.
9. FS Ryan Beard, Jr.
10. FS Kareem Peterson, Soph.
2010 Schedule

Sept. 4 at Nebraska
Sept. 11 at Kentucky
Sept. 18 Indiana
Sept. 25 at USF
Oct. 9 at FIU
Oct. 16 ULM
Oct. 23 at Louisiana
Oct. 30 North Texas
Nov. 6 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 13 at Arkansas St
Nov. 20 MTSU
Nov. 27 at Troy

Well, this hasn’t exactly worked out so hot.

The hope was to hit the Sun Belt ground running after moving up to the FBS ranks, but a 2-10 provisional season was followed up by a miserable 0-12 campaign. The Hilltoppers have lost 20 in a row and haven’t beaten an FBS team since September 20, 2007 (a 20-17 win over Middle Tennessee).

The defense was among the worst in the country while the offense wasn’t much better. WKU was 118th in total defense, dead last in pass efficiency defense, dead last in sacks, second-to-last in scoring D, 118th against the run, 114th in sacks allowed, 104th in scoring, 110th in passing, and 101st in total offense. So why is there such a growing buzz?

For one, Willie Taggart, a star quarterback for the program 15 years ago, returns after helping Toby Gerhart and the Stanford running backs. Taggart knows the program, has a fresh energy, and most importantly, he has a slew of young players to work with.

WKU wasn’t going to be a big-time player in the Sun Belt race right out of the gate, and it might still take at least another year to be competitive. But 19 starters return from a team that took its lumps (to be exceedingly nice about it), arguably the Sun Belt’s best recruiting class was just brought in, and there’s a ton of potential for the near future.

Even though there’s plenty of experience coming back, most of the key players will be back for 2011, and there’s an expectation (especially in the secondary) that a slew of true freshmen will provide an instant upgrade. And then there’s Taggart, who has opened up the depth chart throwing out every job to be there for the taking.

There’s some major movement for a team with so many returning parts, led by JUCO transfer Matt Pelesasa taking over at quarterback, more help in the backfield for Bobby Rainey, and a switch to a 4-3 defense. The offense will become more of a pro style, West Coast attack, and considering how the team floundered last year, any change to the norm is a positive.

Yes, the Hilltoppers were really, really bad, and yes, patience is a must going into 2010, but they showed some fight and some spunk late in the year losing to ULM, Florida Atlantic (both games on the road) and at home to Arkansas State by less than a touchdown in each. WKU showed it could at least stay in games, and now it’s time to show that it can really play at the higher level. Give it another year and then the program will look the part.

What to watch for on offense: The West Coast offense. WKU will try to pound away more with RB Bobby Rainey and the running game, and while mobility at quarterback won’t be ignored, the idea will be to get the passing game going with a more pro-style attack. Enter Matt Pelesasa, a ready-made starter from the JUCO ranks who looked the part all offseason and should take over the starting gig from Kawaun Jakes, last year’s top quarterback. Jakes injured his ankle playing basketball, and now he’s at the back of a long line of QB prospects.

What to watch for on defense: The 4-3. Oddly enough, WKU should have enough decent linemen to make the switch without a problem. The 3-4 didn’t generate any pressure whatsoever, and now several linemen will be in more natural spots. With the change, now there are more than enough linebackers to form a solid rotation while giving the coaching staff options to play around with.

The team will be far better if … it can generate a pass rush. The offense, as inconsistent as it was, should be better with the ball expected to be in the hands of the strong running backs even more, and with a big offensive line up front to pave the way. The defense, though, desperately needs someone to get to the quarterback coming up with a pathetic ten sacks and 47 tackles for loss. It’s not all the fault of the line for the problems in the secondary, but the trickle-down effect killed the pass defense. The safeties spent all their time cheating up against the run, and the corners couldn’t stay on an island with quarterbacks getting all year to throw.

The schedule: Forget about the non-conference dates with Nebraska, Kentucky, Indiana and South Florida. WKU will be 0-4, but all that matters is being able to improve each and every week before October comes. There will be a nice two-week break before kicking off Sun Belt play at FIU, and then the help arrives at the end of the month with three home dates in a four game stretch. The losing streak will be broken, but it would be nice if there was a true cupcake to fatten up on.

Best offensive player: Junior RB Bobby Rainey. With a quick burst and a strong downhill running style, Rainey is a weapon who took over the offense last year running for 99 yards or more in five of the final nine games on the way to a 939-yard, six score season. His specialty has been kickoff returns, and while he might not stick, he’ll someday get a long look in an NFL camp as a special teamer and backup runner. He can catch, too.

Best defensive player: Senior LB Thomas Majors. While the stats look good because so many plays were funneled to him, Majors came in from the JUCO ranks and did what he was supposed to with a team-leading 101 tackles. He needs to get into the backfield on a regular basis and he has to be more disruptive, but the team will take another year of triple-digit stops.

Key player to a successful season: Junior QB Matt Pelesasa. The running game will be strong and the defense can’t be any worse. For WKU to take a step forward (like winning a few games), it need an efficient passing game and it needs a quarterback who can take a little heat off of Rainey. However, if the pass protection is as miserable as it was last year, say good night to any semblance of an air attack.

The season will be a success if … WKU wins three games. It’s not quite right to set the bar at just getting an FBS win, and no one goes into a season hoping for two victories. The team really did start playing well (all things considered) by the end of last year, and it should be able to squeak out a few victories this season on athleticism and depth. 2011 is when everything is supposed to come together, but don’t be too shocked if this becomes one of the Sun Belt’s surprise teams now that Taggart is in charge.

Key game: Oct. 9 at FIU. This is the first winnable game on the slate, and with five of the next seven Sun Belt games at home, a win would do more than get the monkey off the program’s back. FIU won easily 37-20 last season, but this year’s Hilltopper team should be ten steps ahead of where it was on October 10th of 2009.

2009 Fun Stats:
- Sacks: Opponents 40 for 286 yards – WKU 10 for 63 yards
- Punt returns: Opponents 30 for 285 yards – WKU 8 for 60 yards
- Kickoff returns: WKU 81 for 1,797 yards – Opponents 44 for 983 yards

- 2010 WKU Preview | 2010 WKU Offense
- 2010 WKU Defense | 2010 WKU Depth Chart
- WKU Previews  2009