WKU prepares for Saturday’s game vs. Tennessee

Elliott Pratt

WKU football and large stadiums have become a bit more familiar with one another recently. Last week’s win against Kentucky saw 47,623 fans, the 15th largest crowd to ever watch a Topper football game.

The largest crowd to watch WKU came just last year, when the Toppers rolled down to Alabama in front of 101,821 fans for the defending national champions’ home opener.

This Saturday will bring back familiar memories of the second largest crowd WKU has ever seen as the Toppers head to Knoxville Saturday for a matchup with the Tennessee Volunteers for an 11:21 a.m. kickoff.

With the big stadium comes a big team. Four of the biggest crowds for WKU have come in games against Alabama, LSU, Nebraska and Tennessee in the past four years, all resulting in big losses for the Toppers.

In 2009, WKU dropped a 63-7 game in front of a sea of 98,761 orange and white faithful at Neyland Stadium to witness the Vols’ first game under then head coach Lane Kiffin. It was the second-largest crowd to ever watch a WKU game.

In Tennessee’s home opener against Austin Peay Saturday, the era under new coach Butch Jones began with 91,169 in attendance.

Redshirt seniors on the team like Tyree Robinson have had their share of moments in front of large crowds. Robinson said previous experiences will help prepare him for Saturday

“It prepared me a lot because when I was a freshman we had to play Alabama, and LSU as a sophomore,” Robinson said. “Now that I’m a senior, I know what to be ready for when we get there. I know the crowd is going to be unbelievable, and I know we just have to be zoned in on the field.”

Robinson admitted that as a freshman the experience was a bit overwhelming.

“I wasn’t used to a crowd like that because coming out of high school we never saw a crowd near like that,” Robinson said. “Going out there I was like, ‘wow.’ It’s amazing to see honestly. It had me ready to play in front of a big group of people.”

Robinson and the redshirt seniors are familiar with Tennessee, and so is WKU coach Bobby Petrino.

“I know a lot of the players either in recruiting or in going against them,” Petrino said. “They have a big physical offensive front. (Running back) Rajion Neal is a guy I’ve known since high school that’s a very, very good runner and has really good instincts and good vision.”

The crowd, as well as Tennessee’s offensive line, will provide a few of WKU’s biggest obstacles on Saturday. The line stands taller than 6-foot-2-inches with two men reaching 6-foot-6 inches.

On the other side of the ball, the Vols have senior Daniel McCullers, a defensive lineman plugging the gaps at 6-foot-8-inches and 351 pounds.

Coach Petrino said the team will have to rely on their technique to conquer such a big force at the line of scrimmage.

“He’s a big, physical guy that moves around really well,” Petrino said. “We have to do a good job with our pad level and finishing and playing hard. Those guys we went against last week were big, physical guys — not as tall — but they were big and physical, so it’s really just relying on your technique and continuing to work hard at it.”

Petrino said in his weekly press conference that controlling the line of scrimmage was one of the high points in the team’s win over Kentucky.  But if the team wants to move to 2-0 in the SEC in front of another large crowd, they’ll have to continue to fix mistakes in practice.

“We gave up some big plays (Saturday) — we have to get that corrected,” Petrino said. “…I think that’s what’s most important to me this week is that we come out in practice and that everyone understands that we’re going to work hard and get better each day.”