NASHVILLE, Tenn.--- It is finally time, time for the clash of shoulder pads, the roar of the crowd, time another season of WKU Hilltopper football. Tonight's match-up pits the Tops against in-state foe the Kentucky Wildcats, but instead of the teams squaring off in the cozy confines of Houchens-Smith Stadium, the teams will square off in front of a raucous crowd in Nashville's LP Field.
The game will be the third all-time meeting as UK took the first two meetings of the series in front of its home crowd at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.
The Wildcats are coming off a 6-7 campaign under first year head coach and Franklin, KY native Joker Phillips. Coming into the 2011 season, they look to build on their defensive foundation they implemented last season. The defense will return its top eleven tacklers from last season. The defense will also look to dominate the game with their new 3-4 defensive scheme, which will be added on to their already strong 4-3 scheme.
Although the defense looks to be in top shape, their offense will look very different from last season as the Cats will look to replace stars like Randall Cobb, Chris Matthews, and Derrick Locke as well as quarterback Mike Hartline. Due to the loss of these key offensive weapons, the team will look to replace seventy-eight percent of their offense last season.
Lining up under center for the Wildcats will be junior Morgan Newton. Newton has started nine games over the past two seasons where he completed just over fifty-six percent of his passes for 971 yards and six touchdowns. While he does have the experience, it will be interesting to see how well Newton will perform as the full-time starter.
When it comes to the quarterback situation for the Tops, the offense will put the ball in the hands of junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes. Jakes had an up and down season in 2010, but has made huge improvements during spring practice and fall camp, which has people excited about what Jakes will do in 2011.
Even with Jakes as quarterback, the offense will look for senior running back Bobby Rainey to shoulder the load for the WKU offense. Last season against the Wildcats, Rainey torched the UK defense for 184 yards and two scores. If he can duplicate the success of his performance last season, the Tops will be in good position to pull off the upset.
On the defensive side, the Tops will return their entire defensive line, which will pay dividends in front of a large crowd and a national television audience. One player to watch on the defensive line if Jared Clendenin who has been deemed by numerous WKU players and coaches as the heart and soul of the defense.
The other player to watch on the defensive side of the ball for the Tops is sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson. Jackson lacks some experience that other may have, but is an intense competitor and has really stepped up for a linebacking corps looking for a new identity.
When all the smoke clears, and the clock hits quadruple zeroes, it is hard to decide who has the edge. Look for the game to be a defensive battle with flashes of offensive brilliance.