To give our members the best pre-game and post game coverage possible, InsideTennessee.com has joined up the Bowling Green Daily News and their team beat writer Nick Baumgardner to give all Volunteer fans an "Inside" look at the Hilltoppers. We asked 10 questions to give all fans a better overview of the WKU Team.
Question 1. Tell us what base type of offense and defense does the Hilltoppers run for the majority of the time.
WKU has changed its offense a little bit heading into this season. New offensive coordinator – and current offensive line coach – Walter Wells has turned the Hilltopper offense into more of a power-based, spread attack. As opposed to the strictly shotgun spread-option look they've went with over the past few years. WKU has spent a good deal of time under center this season, used a fullback and several double tight end looks. The Hilltoppers are still a spread team by definition, but they've become much more multiple. They tend to use a lot of underneath routes in the pass offense and still rely on the run game for around 60 percent of their offense.
Question 2. How has the Hilltoppers fall camp been, any new standouts.
Camp has been positive for them from an experience standpoint. Around 60 percent of WKU's current roster has at least three years of eligibility remaining. Meaning that they're a very young football team. So that's been a positive.
There have been quite a few new standouts. Around six true freshmen will be on the travel roster this year – as opposed to one last season – and several redshirt freshmen have stepped up and worked their way onto the depth chart. A few notables: r-Fr. tight end Jack Doyle, r-Fr. outside linebacker Quanterus Smith and true freshman corner Jamal Forrest – all are expected to start.
Question 3. What are the expectations for the Hilltoppers this fall?
That probably depends on who you ask. The team is saying it wants to win a Sun Belt championship. Realistically however, WKU simply needs to compete and find a way to close out games in the fourth quarter. As far as wins and losses go, a .500 season would be a huge accomplishment for the Hilltoppers. But anything around four wins wouldn't be too shabby either, considering this is their first official year as an FBS school. It'll take a little bit of time yet, but WKU seems to be putting the pieces in place to be a strong competitor in the Sun Belt.
Question 4. I understand that this is a very young team, how much youth is expected to contribute to the Hilltoppers this fall?
Well as I said earlier, there will be a ton of youth on both sides of the ball getting some big time snaps. On the defensive side in particular, only two starters are seniors – and most of the immediate backups are underclassmen as well. WKU's redshirt sophomores, redshirt freshmen and true freshmen are the only classes the team has that were recruited to be FBS athletes. The rest of the squad was still brought in with the understanding that they'd be competing at the FCS (1-AA) level. So looking at it that way, those three groups are largely superior from an athletic standpoint. Expect to see sophomores or below at just about every spot on the field – save quarterback and a few spots on the offensive line.
Question 5. Who has been the most impressive offensive weapon this fall?
The most impressive weapon to me has been a trio of running backs and the stable of tight ends. Seniors Marell Booker and Tyrell Hayden – a 1,000-yard rusher in 2007 – will combine with sophomore Bobby Rainey – who led the team in all-purpose yards last year despite injury – to form a pretty formidable backfield. All three will see carries and all three will likely improved due to WKU's new power-running philosophy. From the tight end spot, both Doyle and sophomore Tristan Jones have NFL type bodies and skill sets. Add in true freshmen Ed Hazelett (6-7, 278) and WKU's got a pretty good little trio to dump the ball to. Receiver wise, senior Jake Gaebler was the team's best player last season and will leave WKU with a handful of career receiving records to his credit. The return of speedy sophomore Derrius Brooks – who is also a track standout – will go a long way in bolstering that position as well.
Question 6. Who has been most impressive on the defensive side of the ball?
Really the group as a whole has impressed me. I thought the youth would be a huge weakness for WKU this season on defense, as several younger players will be having big roles this year. But honestly, I've been impressed. It's a very athletic group that plays very physical. There are times where you wonder if certain players really know where they're going yet, but the one positive is that they're getting there fast. Top performers should be sophomore defensive end Jared Clendenin – the only true freshman to play last year – along with sophomore safety Mark Santoro and junior linebacker Thomas Majors – a JUCO transfer. Good size, good speed and good ability – but the group still has a lot to learn.
WKU actually began game prep for Sept. 5 this week – something it doesn't normally do. Usually the Hilltoppers wait until the final week of the preseason to install gameplan information, but they're trying to get a jump on things this year.
Question 8. Any key injuries from fall camp, anyone expecting to miss the UT game?
Center Lloyd Pressley hasn't practiced at all during camp and may require a season-ending procedure on his back. There are also a few question marks here and there, but as of right now, nothing serious. The biggest injury probably came from true freshman quarterback Courtney Dalcourt. A pretty highly-touted recruit around here who was expected to push for the starting QB job. He tore his ACL three days into camp, though.
Question 9. How would you describe the Hilltopper's offensive attack?
It's multiple. It uses the tight end an awful lot in the passing game and really sticks to the underneath stuff otherwise. It uses the quarterback a good deal on read-option plays and also will line up in an I-formation and pound the ball. It's a very run-heavy offense that attempts to wear down an opponent with hopes of breaking things open late. Not a lot of big-play type guys out there, so they try and sustain drives as much as they can.
Question 10. What's your personal thoughts about the UT opener?
Just looking at the game on paper leads one to believe that this should be a blowout in Tennessee's favor. But as we all know, Tennessee is going through a pretty big transition this year. No one really knows what to expect from the Vols because – well – no one has really seen this group and coaching staff in an actual game yet. So there's a bit of an unknown there. UT obviously has an edge from a talent standpoint, and if that is going to determine the outcome – then they win easily. But as we all know, that's not always the case. WKU's gameplan has to be to keep things as close as it can for as long as it can. Then, hope its within striking distance late in the game. Against Virginia Tech last year, the Hilltoppers were right in the mix midway through the fourth quarter – and they gave the Hokies a pretty solid scare. If they can do that against Tennessee this season – win or lose – it'd be a big boost for them.
Join Nick Baumgardner and James Bryant this Sunday evening at 9:00 p.m. eastern in a live chat on InsideTennessee.com to learn more about the Volunteers upcoming game with the Hilltoppers.