5 Takeaways from the WKU-Wisconsin Game
The Tops fell to Wisconsin 34–3 and fall to 0-1 to begin the 2018 campaign. The Hilltoppers did some things well and others poorly. Let’s take a look at what we can glean from Friday’s game:
1. Drew Eckels is ready
There were many questions coming into this game if the redshirt senior could be successful after sitting for 4 seasons as a backup. The short answer is Eckels has come to play. He was able to pass for 167 yards off of 15-26 pass attempts and ran for 38 yards. His ability to settle in and run the offense was a pleasant surprise. Eckels also surprised at his ability to run as early in the first half he made several QB runs for positive yards, including a 15 yard scramble. Had 3 or 4 of Eckels’ passes remained in the hands of their targets, the Tops could have found the end zone and increased their scoring total.
2. Defense is the real deal
WKU’s defense proved that it going to drive the car while the new-look offense figures itself out. Several times the Tops were able to apply pressure to Wisconsin quarterback Alex Hornibrook and flush him out of the pocket. The linebacking corps of Ben Holt and Masai Whyte, along with Defensive End, Jeremy Darwin all recorded a sack on Hornibrook. Despite facing one of the top runnning backs in the country in Jonathan Taylor, the Tops held strong in the run defense. Yes, Taylor got his points, but WKU didn’t make it easy for him the entire game. However, the Tops will have to do a better job of plugging holes which speedy running backs like Taylor will take advantage of.
3. Running game was non-existent
The Toppers couldn’t make a dent on the ground. Led by Marquez Trigg, the Tops had 34 rushes for 124 yards and were constantly being met at or behind the line of scrimmage by the much bigger linemen of Wisconsin. Since the Badgers are much bigger than WKU, its not surprising that the Tops would have problems pounding the rock. However, in order for WKU to rise above the competition on the rest of it’s schedule, the running game will have to pick up exponentially and become a threat from the very start of the game.
4. Red Zone woes
WKU finally found the red zone in the second half, after being stuck in idle on their own side of the field for the first half of the game. However, the Tops were ill-prepared to take advantage. Four trips to the red zone and the Tops could only muster a field goal for its troubles hardly seems right. A botched trick play that involved wide receiver Quin Jernigan tossing a lob to Eckels, only to be intercepted, highlighted the red zone issues. Xavier Lane dropped a pass that would have led to a score and backup quarterback Davis Shanley fumbled the ball after being tackled at the 1-yard line in the late moments of the fourth.
Arguably, the Toppers red zone percentage for the season will drastically improve next week versus Maine at home. However, for the Tops, there is a sting in not being able to punch one in against a Top 5 team that will surely leave a bad taste for a long time. It’s a confidence boost that WKU surely could have ridden throughout the season.
5. Sanford’s play calling
Coach Mike Sanford has taken over the play call duties this season and it seemed that he was willing to take a few more chances than we saw last year. The Tops opened the game with a few trick plays and despite a varying level of success, there seemed to be a desire to open up the play book and try to get Wisconsin off balance. Sanford also showed that he has confidence in both Eckels’ legs well as his arms. Sanford showed a stretch of using the read option which led to Eckels’ becoming a running threat more so than an aerial one. He did take heat for the failed Jernigan-to-Eckels play but said post game that he thinks its still a play that could eventually pay off. It will be interesting to see if these variations and seemingly different approach to the offense will look different against other teams in WKU’s crosshairs this season.