Western Kentucky University head football coach David Elson has proved he is not a timid soul. With newly minted Division I-A WKU having already played at Indiana and Alabama this year ( they'll take on Virginia Tech later in the year ), the Toppers now tackle ( or attempt to tackle ) UK's football 'Cats. As evidenced by WKU's take-on-all-comers attitude, this weeks David vs.Goliath scenario isn't new for Elson; he has absolutely no reluctance to take on BCS schools ( and happily accept their game guarantee -- anywhere from $500 - 800,000 ), so pardon him if he or his team isn't weak-kneed at the thought of playing in Commonwealth Stadium, in front of the sixty-five thousand plus who figure to be in attendance Saturday. The Toppers have taken on the likes of Auburn, Georgia, Kansas St., and Florida, all on the road, over the last few years; discombobulated they will not be.
Elson, who was named WKU's head coach in March 2003, has put together a string of five straight winning seasons, even going 7-5 last year despite playing six Division I-A schools ( Elson is 39-24 overall ). He has also flawlessly guided Western through the first year-and-a-half of a two year transition period as the Toppers take on the challenge of playing Division I-A football full-time as a member of the Sun Belt Conference ( yes, the same conference as Middle Tennessee ).
WKU Athletic Director Wood Selig didn't pick Elson's name out of skinny oxygen when he announced the 32 year old as the next head coach ( at the time the youngest D I head coach ) of the football Toppers; Elson had been on the legendary Jack Harbaugh's staff since '96. He served as Western's defensive coordinator his final two years before becoming head coach. In Elson's 12 years as both an assistant to Harbaugh, and as head coach, WKU has posted a record of 98-46, winning the Division 1-AA National Championship in 2002.
This year Western has taken on the aforementioned Alabama ( 41-7 loss ) and Indiana ( 31-13 loss ), as well as Eastern Kentucky ( 37-13 win ) and Murray State ( 50-9 win ). The statistics for those games are as divergent as the opponents. Western's numbers can be broken down into primarily two categories: those games played against BCS schools ( Division I-A ) and those played against FCS schools ( Division 1-AA ).
- Points scored -- Versus BCS: 10.0 points per game -- Versus FBS: 43.5 points per game.
- Rushing yards -- Versus BCS: 52.5 yards per game -- Versus FBS: 182.0 yards per game.
- Passing yards -- Versus BCS: 167.5 yards per game -- Versus FBS: 189.5 yards per game.
- Total Offense -- Versus BCS: 22.0 yards per game -- Versus FBS: 371.5 yards per game.
- Rush yards allowed -- Versus BCS: 289.0 yards per game -- Versus FBS: 19.0 yards per game.
- Passing yards allowed -- Versus BCS: 214.5 yards per game -- Versus FBS: 228.0 yards per game.
**One intriguing stat: WKU is 13 for 13 in red zone attempts, scoring eight touchdowns and kicking five field goals.
WKU Offensive Personnel
Quarterback K.J. Black: 6'4", 215 lb sophomore -- The Fern Creek alum won the starting quarterback job in the spring and fall practices after backing up David Wolke last year. In '07 Black threw for 1,007 yards, going 88 for 134 through the air. He also rushed for 324 yards on 104 carries. Also, last year versus Middle Tennessee he came off of the bench in the second half to lead the Toppers to two scoring drives; rushing for 56 yards on 11 carries and going 5 for 7 for 74 yards and a touchdown through the air. Black separated his shoulder in WKU's second game versus EKU this year. In a game-and-a-quarter so far in the '08 season, Black is 24 for 38 for 279 yards through the air. He has rushed for 60 yards on 18 carries. Black is big, strong and athletic, and will pose a true test to UK's linebackers and secondary.
Quarterback David Wolke: 6'2", 205 lb senior -- The Notre Dame transfer ( he played two years in South Bend ) took over the starting QB spot when K.J. Black went down with an injury in the second game of the season versus EKU. Wolke started nine games last year; he was fourth on the team in rushing with 359 yards. Since taking over the starting job Wolke is 38 of 68 through the air, for 454 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. He has rushed 20 times for 37 yards. He will not start Saturday, but there is a real possibility that he could see action.
Running back Tyrell Hayden: 5'10", 190 lb junior -- The Lexington Christian product has rushed 42 times for 131 yards ( 3.1 yards per carry ) and one touchdown.
Running back Marell Booker: 5'9", 215 lb junior -- The Louisville Holy Cross alum has rushed 29 times for 99 yards ( 3.4 yards per carry ) and two touchdowns.
Wide receiver Derrius Brooks: 5'10", 180 lb redshirt freshman -- Brooks has caught 13 passes for 140 yards ( 10.8 yards per catch ) and one rushing touchdown.
Wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper: 6'0", 185 lb sophomore -- Cooper has caught nine passes for 155 yards ( an impressive 17.2 yards per catch ) and one touchdown.
Wide receiver Wenquel Graves: 5'9", 185 lb sophomore -- Graves, who attended Bardstown High School, has nine catches for 61 yards ( 6.8 yards per catch ).
Wide receiver Jessie Quinn: 6'1", 195 lb senior -- Quinn has made seven catches for 78 yards ( 11.1 yards per catch ).
Tight end Tristan Jones: 6'3", 260 lb redshirt freshman -- The Clark County product has four catches for 42 yards ( 10.5 yards per catch ) and two touchdowns. Watch for this guy in the red zone.
Kick-off returner Bobby Rainey: 5'9", 205 lb freshman -- Rainey, who also plays running back, has returned six kick-offs for a total of 205 yards, which is a rather impressive 34.2 average. He teams with Quinterrance Cooper ( 10 returns for a 21.2 average ).
Is bigger, better?
Here's a comparison of UK's and Western's size up front, as well as UK's receivers and WKU's defensive backs:
Defensive Line average -- 6'2" 291 lbs 6'3", 289 lbs -- Offensive Line
Offensive Line average -- 6'4", 297 lbs 6'2", 275 lbs -- Defensive Line
Receivers -- 6'2" 210 lbs 5'11", 190 lbs -- Defensive Backs
- Indiana rushed for 297 yards on 41 carries, good for 7.2 yards per rush.
- IU quarterback Kellen Lewis ran nine times for 185 yards and two touchdowns ( he had a 75 yard touchdown run ).
- WKU ran for 63 yards on 31 carries versus IU.
- WKU was within 24-13 with nine minutes left in the IU game.
- WKU amassed 248 rushing yards versus Eastern Kentucky ( on 60 attempts ).
- Western outscored Eastern 21-0 in the second half.
- The Toppers had four rushing touchdowns versus Eastern.
- Alabama held Western to only nine first downs.
- 'Bama ran for 281 yards on 49 carries ( 5.7 yards per carry ).
- 'Bama quarterback John Parker Wilson was 17 of 27 for 215 yards ( he had one interception and one touchdown ).
- WKU gave up 6.8 yards per play to 'Bama.
- Alabama recorded zero punts versus WKU.
- Alabama had eight tackles for loss versus WKU.
- Western held Murray St. to 11 yards rushing.
- Murray quarterback Chris Franklin ( a Dunbar graduate ) was 26 for 40 for 228 yards versus WKU, but he threw four interceptions and zero touchdowns.
- Western is converting 46% of their third down plays ( 29 of 63 ).
- WKU is averaging only 4.3 yards per punt return, while giving up 13.2 yards per return.
There are too many former Kentucky high school football players at WKU to mention, but there are a couple of UK - WKU connections that are rather interesting:
- UK Linebacker coach Chuck Smith's son Brandon is a backup quarterback for the Toppers.
- Former UK tight end Jacob Tamme's brother Seth is a receiver for Western.
- MIke Chism, WKU recruiting coordinator and tight ends coach, earned two varsity letters at UK as a defensive tackle ( '88 - '89 ). He served as a graduate assistant in '95 and '96, and was UK's Director of Football Operations in '01 and '02.
We'll have UK vs. WKU pre-game analysis and commentary coming up over the next couple of days.
Thanks for reading, and Go 'Cats!