Three matchups to watch as WKU takes on Rice

The offensive line prepares for former WKU center Max Halpin (70) to snap the ball during WKU’s game against Louisiana Tech on Sept. 10, 2015, at Houchens- Smith Stadium. 

Matthew Stewart

The Hilltoppers open up the 2016-17 football campaign tonight against the Rice Owls. Although the Toppers handed the Owls a 49-10 loss on their home turf in Houston, this is a new year.

Brandon Doughty is no longer the quarterback for WKU, which can change a lot of things for the Toppers. Redshirt junior Mike White will start his first game in the red and white tonight as they take the field for the first time this season.

Here are three key matchups that you might want to pay attention to:

1) Mike White vs. Rice’s secondary

White has no reps with the Topper offense other than the snaps he has taken in practice and inter-squad scrimmages.

White threw for 11 touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his time at the University of South Florida. It will be interesting to see what White can do with the talented WKU receivers.

The Rice defense might not create that many problems for White after all. Just a season ago the Owls gave up more yards per play than any other defense in the country.

Last year, Rice allowed 36 touchdown passes and only intercepted two. The Rice defense probably won’t be the toughest test for the new Topper quarterback as WKU will face top-ranked Alabama in week two of the season in Tuscaloosa.

2) WKU’s offensive line vs. Rice’s defensive line

The Toppers have a well-respected offensive line highlighted by All-American redshirt senior left tackle Forrest Lamp.

Lamp is on the watch list for both the Outland Trophy and the Wuerffel Trophy this season as well as being recognized with preseason All-Conference USA honors.

Lamp is joined by redshirt senior Max Halpin and redshirt senior Joe Manley on the front line. All other starters on the offensive line also return this season for the Toppers.

This unit held their own last season against top-tier Southeastern Conference opponents while protecting one of the most prolific passers in WKU football history in Brandon Doughty.

The Owls do have some experience on their side in the form of their coach. Rice’s first-year defensive line coach, Frank Okam, is a former defensive tackle for the Houston Texans.

NFL experience might not be able to fill the obvious void; Rice’s defense isn’t something to write home about. The Owls ranked dead last in total sacks in the league last season.

3) Head coaches: WKU’s Jeff Brohm vs. Rice’s David Bailiff

WKU head coach Jeff Brohm has a storied football career. He has won numerous awards throughout his time on the gridiron in high school and college and spent seven years in the NFL.

As a head coach he holds a record of 20-7 while also winning a bowl game in both years as the head man on the Hill.

Bailiff has a career losing record at 74-75 as head coach of Texas State University and Rice, but has led Rice to three bowl victories during his tenure there.

Brohm has been around the game for quite a long time, but Bailiff has been the man in charge for over a decade. Tonight’s matchup will tell if Bailiff’s experience can help give Rice the much-needed victory.

Reporter Matthew Stewart can be reached at 270-745-6281 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @MES_WKU22.