It's a good thing the WKU has put a lot of emphasis on special teams.
For good or bad, the Toppers have gotten a lot of chances to see their returns teams so far, in part due to the amount of scoring done by opponents.
But WKU has been able to do a lot with those returns. The Toppers have returned 13 kicks for 316 yards, an average of just over 24 yards per return.
"The thing we wanna stress with our return game is, give our offense an opportunity to have a good start to their series," special teams coordinator Stuart Holt said. "We've faced two really good defenses. Our kickoff return and our punt return have been teams that we needed to produce. We did not need to compound any other difficulties we may be having in the game by not getting the ball out to a sufficient mark. It's been something we've stressed all through spring, through camp is when we get the opportunity and with the guys we've got back there, we've got the opportunity to score."
The majority of those returns have fallen on sophomore Bobby Rainey, who in nine returns has averaged 24.2 yards.
"We've been able to keep the same guys in there for the most part and Bobby's a difference-maker," coach David Elson said. "I think our guys are taking a lot of pride in special teams. We feel like we've had two really good weeks and we've gotta continue that and continue getting better. We've done that in practice, we've continued to invest the amount of time that we typically do and guys are taking pride and seeing how it affects field position and how it can really get some things going."
But Rainey, who also returned kicks last year before suffering a knee injury, doesn't feel like he's up to the mark he set last season.
"I think I've done alright," he said. "I've done what I could do because I missed some reads on a few plays. I think I was better last year than this year but that'll change this game because I've corrected my mistakes. Now I've gotta go out there and do it."
As they have each week, the Toppers have spent a good amount of time devoted to special teams and the return games. Rainey said he's used that time to make a few corrections that should pay off.
"Really, I just need to read it better," he said. "I don't know what's been going on with me lately. I haven't been reading it right on certain plays. When I do read it right, it'll be like a mistake backside. Basically, it's me reading it right and the guys blocking up front."
For the next few games, Rainey might have an even bigger load in returns. With senior Jake Gaebler is listed as questionable, the punt return duties could fall to Rainey as well. Rainey hasn't made any punt returns this season, but did make a fair catch late in the game against South Florida.
"We'll put Bobby back there," Holt said. "He's got good hands, makes good decisions. He made a good decision the other night on the fair catch. We're not that concerned in terms of the next guy going in. We also have Quinterrance Cooper working back there, Marcus Vasquez, so we have some guys who have some ability with the ball in their hands. There is a difference when you've got a guy like Jake, who can make a guy miss and also is gonna make a good decision 9.9 times out of ten."
Rainey does have experience at punt return, making seven returns last season. He also possesses a few intangibles, at either return position.
"His vision is good and he can make people miss," Elson said. "At the same time, he's powerful enough to break tackles. Those are all things you want within a returner."
Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at WKU's Wednesday practice, including an injury report.
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