Hilltoppers aim for first win of the season against C-USA foe MTSU

WKU Redshirt freshman Dalvin Smith prepares to catch his first collegiate touchdown during the home opener on Sept. 19, 2020.

Matthew Hargrove

WKU football (0-2) had a week off this past Saturday. Middle Tennessee State University (0-3), (0-1, C-USA) is the next team up on the schedule as the Hilltoppers look for their first win of the 2020 campaign.

The Blue Raiders welcome the Hilltoppers to Murfreesboro, Tennessee this Saturday for a 4 p.m. kickoff after dropping three straight games. MTSU fell on the road to the University of Texas-San Antonio 37-35 last Saturday.

MTSU’s redshirt junior quarterback Asher O’Hara threw for 372 yards completing 31 of 47 passes. O’Hara also threw two interceptions against the Roadrunners. The veteran added 61 rushing yards to his credit at UTSA on 21 attempts.

WKU’s defense has allowed 192 rushing yards to quarterbacks through two weeks of play while giving up four rushing touchdowns to quarterbacks as well.

“Honestly, we don’t need any extra juice,” redshirt freshman lineman Ricky Barber said when asked about WKU’s upcoming matchup. “We’re just playing our game. We don’t need to get extra riled up just because they’re our rival. We bring the same energy we bring everybody else.”

WKU will travel roughly 100 miles south to play its cross-state foe as it aims to claim its first Conference USA win of the season as well.

With two weeks of preparation for the Blue Raiders, the WKU coaching staff knows what they need to work on in order to get into the win column on Oct. 3.

“Offensively, the first down is really important for us as far as getting good positive yardage,” WKU Head Coach Tyson Helton stated. “We definitely need to focus on not having the negative yards.”

These negative yards have most notably come from the running game, specifically talking about veteran running back Gaej Walker.

The redshirt senior had a total of 252 rushing yards after WKU’s first two games last year. He has only accumulated 53 rushing yards in that same span this season.

And not only has there been a lot of negatives on the field, off the field situations have plagued the Hilltopper offense as well.

Redshirt junior Jahcour Pearson followed his fellow wideout Jacquez Sloan into the transfer portal. It’s not yet clear where the receivers will play football next.

The top wide receivers for WKU coming into the season are now no longer with the team, which invites more challenges for graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome.

“We haven’t struggled on offense because of the quarterback in my opinion,” offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis said. “He hasn’t turned the ball over, which that’s kind of been our formula for winning games.”

That’s shown in the stats. As of Sept. 21, Pigrome is one of six quarterbacks in the nation that have 4 plus touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Other signal callers on the list include Clemson University’s Trevor Lawrence and the University of Texas’ Sam Ehlinger.

Not only have the Hilltoppers struggled on offense, but the team has also had some confusion on the defensive side of the ball as well.

“Bringing the juice back, man, playing like how we playing last year, together,” senior defensive back DeAngelo Malone said.

The “juice” is something that will very much be needed when going up against Blue Raider quarterback O’Hara.

“He’s a guy that can run and throw, but I tell you probably the one thing that impresses me about him is he just fights for every yard he gets,” Helton said.

Helton and defensive coordinator Clayton White have already begun watching film on MTSU’s offense and have picked up on some things to focus on.

“The size of their O-line — if you take a really close look at those guys, those guys are pretty big dudes,” White said. “They have a big tight end, and you know I think those are the things that stand out and how tough they run the football.”

That Blue Raider run game is led by redshirt junior Chaton Mobley, who has been shut down this year so far having 82 rushing yards in three games played.

“You know they haven’t started out the way they probably wanted to, but I know they’re working at the same things” coach White said.

Fans can watch the Hilltoppers matchup against the Blue Raiders on ESPN 3 or by radio on 100.7 FM. Kickoff is at 4 p.m. in Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium.

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