Attention turns to conference play
Published: Thursday, September 27, 2012
Updated: Thursday, September 27, 2012 18:09
The non-conference schedule is over, and now the Arkansas State football team turns its attention to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers as it opens conference play Saturday at Liberty Bank Stadium.
The Hilltoppers enter the game at 3-1, including a win over the University of Kentucky, an SEC school, suggesting that they have the athleticism and coaching necessary to make a serious run at the Sun Belt title. Their 13th-ranked defense features an aggressive line averaging 2.5 sacks per game, presenting a stiff challenge for the Red Wolves’ offensive line.
“They’re very physical. Their front four play extremely well together. They’re tremendously talented. They’re good run stoppers,” said senior quarterback Ryan Aplin. “We have to be physical down there [and] take those guys out and open some holes for the running game.”
Offensive line coach J.B. Grimes praised WKU’s line as “big and athletic” and was particularly complimentary of their technique.
“They’re very well coached. You can tell their defensive line coach knows what he’s doing when it comes to hand slaps and things like that. They’ve got moves in the pass rush. They keep their pads down in the run game. This is a very good defensive front,” Grimes said.
Offensively, WKU possess a bevy of weapons, including senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes, whose mobility adds another dimension to their attack. The rushing game is also potent, averaging over 200 yards per game.
“They’ve got four real play makers that [require you] to be careful in what you’re doing. Their tight end is a big-time player. Their passing game goes through him,” said defensive coordinator John Thompson. “Then you go to the tailback. [Their] check-downs are really dangerous. The fullback is their third-leading receiver, their tailback is second, and then the quarterback is a dual threat.”
WKU comes off a 42-17 shellacking of Southern Miss where they racked up 560 yards of offense and had two running backs break the 100-yard mark on the ground. Jakes added three scores through the air. They defeated Austin Peay 49-10 to open the season before clipping Kentucky 32-31 in overtime during Week 2. The Hilltoppers’ only loss is to top-ranked Alabama.
The Red Wolves enter the game short a defender, as sophomore linebacker Qushaun Lee was suspended by Sun Belt commissioner Karl Benson for a personal foul against Alcorn State last week. Western Kentucky will also be missing Jonathan Dowling after Dowling was dismissed from the WKU game against Southern Miss on Sept. 22 for a flagrant personal foul.
SBC bylaws state that any coach or student-athlete ejected from a contest shall be suspended for a minimum of one contest and that suspension shall be served during the institutions next contest.
On the offense for the Red Wolves, senior wide receiver Taylor Stockemer, who has been out since week two with an undisclosed injury, is nearly recovered according to offensive coordinator Rhett Lashlee and might play against Western Kentucky.
Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday. The game will be broadcast online at ESPN3.com.