Western Kentucky: The Occasional Team

There are some teams that play well against low-profile opponents in low-profile games, and there are other teams that only seem to play well when there's a little bit of extra attention focused on them. The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers appear to be the latter more than the former, and that's what's going to make this Saturday's game so tricky for the Army football team.


There’s Rob Lowe, there’s creepy Rob Lowe, and then there’s painfully awkward Rob Lowe. Human beings have different personalities, different sides of themselves that emerge in different situations. College football teams aren’t always the same way, but they certainly can be, and with the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers, this tendency to split into at least two different personalities is very real.

If you examine the Hilltoppers this season under first-year coach Jeff Brohm, who replaced a fellow named Bobby Petrino, you’ll find that this team shows one side of itself in certain contexts while becoming a different team in others. The psychological profile of this team is as follows: Western Kentucky becomes one kind of team when the lights are off, but when the cameras are finely trained upon the Hilltoppers, they spring into action. This upcoming game will be on CBS Sports Network, and that leads us to the essential component of the backdrop of this game as a piece of sports theater.

The last time the Hilltoppers appeared on CBS Sports Network, they not only played the Naval Academy on fairly even terms in a tough game; they outplayed the Midshipmen and won in Annapolis. Western Kentucky’s defense showed some backbone in limiting Navy to just three completed passes in 14 attempts. The Hilltoppers weren’t overwhelmed by a flood of big plays; they contained Navy’s triple-option offense and generally held it in check, doing enough on offense to prevail as the game unfolded. One would certainly rate Navy’s offense much higher than UTEP’s offense, so when one realizes that WKU gave up 27 points to both Navy and UTEP, the Hilltoppers’ performance against the Midshipmen rates as their best defensive outing of the season.

Western Kentucky has played two particularly strong games this season, both on CBS Sports Network. The other example was the season opener against Bowling Green. The Falcons were coming off a Mid-American Conference championship, having knocked Northern Illinois out of a BCS bowl. Western Kentucky calmly thumped the Falcons, 59-31. This is a big-stage team, so as Army travels to the Commonwealth of Kentucky in an attempt to try to top the ‘Toppers, it knows it will run into a very motivated opponent.

The unflattering side of WKU is that when the TV cameras are off, it has played poorly. Western Kentucky, especially its defense, took the month of October (and the first day of November) off in a series of non-TV games against Conference USA opponents. The Hilltoppers gave up at least 42 points in four straight games, winning only one of them because the offense scored 66 (against Old Dominion on Oct. 25). This defense reclaimed a bit of its dignity in a 35-27 win over UTEP on Nov. 8, but ever since that TV win over Navy on Sept. 27, this defense has done very little to earn respect. “The TV Toppers” might not be able to flip the switch “on” this Saturday, and Army needs to make WKU pay for its inconsistency.

Army won its first game in New York since 1960 this past Saturday against Connecticut. The Black Knights proved they could win on a bigger stage in the Big Apple, so they know what it’s like to come through and perform when more eyes are watching compared to a noon kickoff against Ball State. However, their opponent is going to take this game very seriously. The Black Knights should be proud of the way they competed against Connecticut, but they now need to turn the page and show Western Kentucky that TV cameras are hardly an assurance of success… for the Hilltoppers, that is.

ArmySports.com Top Stories