Hilltoppers eye first win of the 2020 season at MTSU

WKU redshirt junior running back Gaej Walker (5) is tackled with the ball while running against MTSU during the game in L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 30, 2019.

Matthew Hargrove

It’s rivalry week for the Hilltoppers (0-2), and what makes this year’s 100 miles of hate even sweeter is the fact that both sides are searching to put a “W” in the win column.

This will be matchup No. 70 between WKU and Middle Tennessee State University (0-3), (0-1, C-USA). The programs will go to battle tomorrow at 4 p.m. in Floyd Stadium.

“It’s a big game for WKU,” senior safety Antwon Kincade said. “We’re coming out here with a different edge on about ourselves. We’re looking to have this victory.”

And to have a victory this weekend would be nothing short of a momentum builder, which could spark a fire in the Hilltoppers locker room for the rest of their 2020 campaign.

“It’s really important from a momentum standpoint,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “It allows you to have some good momentum. Now you’re 1-0 in conference, that’s extremely important.” 

For WKU to start off conference play the right way, they are going to need big time performances from their receiving core with no Jacquez Sloan or Jahcour Pearson, and junior Craig Burt Jr. out with an injury.

Helton will be relying on junior wide out Mitchell Tinsley, who leads the Hilltoppers in receiving yards with 107, and WKU’s large receiving group to help their graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome in the passing game. 

“Dayton Wade is gonna have to take on a bigger load offensively now with the loss of Sloan and JP, I think he’s willing to embrace that,” Helton added when asked about the depth of his receivers.

Wade, a sophomore wide out, who had just one reception for 10 yards last year, has yet to record any receiving stats so far this season.

“We got pieces there, it’s just being able to utilize them, and be able to maximize those opportunities,” added Helton.

For the Hilltopper defense, they can’t take the winless MTSU offense lightly, as it seemed like the Blue Raiders found their stride last Friday when they put up 35 points on The University of Texas at San Antonio.

“They don’t run a lot of short routes, they get down the field,” defensive coordinator Clayton White said. “You got to cover them and make plays on the ball.”

One receiver in particular that is a tough matchup for any defense is senior Jarrin Pierce, who leads C-USA in receptions per game (7.3) and ranks No. 5 in receiving yards per game (73.7).

Having to worry about Pierce and the long routes of the Blue Raider wide outs can spell doom for the Hilltopper defenders, with already putting so much attention on sneaky dual-threat junior quarterback Asher O’Hara.

“This will be the third game in a row where our defense really has to play an athletic quarterback that can run around and create, make plays,” Helton said. 

O’Hara leads the team in rushing, averaging 41.3 yards per game, while throwing 175.7 yards per game. 

The veteran quarterback has shown that he has been prone to the turnover early on in the year with throwing five interceptions.

Even though the last two games WKU has seen a dual-threat quarterback shred them on the field, you can expect the Hilltoppers to have success in their third game with Helton and Clayton continually expressing that part of the game throughout this almost two week layoff.

Football beat reporter Matthew Hargrove can be reached at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewHargrov1