WKU puts struggles in the past preparing for Sun Belt play

Elliott Pratt

WKU can relate to South Alabama in a lot of ways.

Saturday will be the first time the two teams square off against one another in the opening Sun Belt Conference game of the season for the two teams, but both have similar backgrounds.

South Alabama (1-1) is in its second year as a Football Bowl Series team in its transition to the Sun Belt. WKU (1-1) went through the exact same move in 2009.

South Alabama is going through growing pains of adjusting to the Division I-A level, going 2-11 last season.

The Jaguars actually had better results in their first season at the FBS level than WKU did – the Toppers dropped 18 games in a row before winning a game midway through their second year in Division I-A.

The two schools face off for the first time when the Toppers enter Mobile, Ala. for a 6:30 p.m. kickoff on Saturday.

South Alabama will present its share of threats against WKU on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Ross Metheny earned Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week honors last week after totaling 365 yards combined through the air and on the ground in the Jaguars 41-39 win over Tulane.

Coach Bobby Petrino said in his Monday press conference that South Alabama’s dual threat quarterback brings concern with the run defense for his team.

“When you watch the video, the first thing that jumps out at you is the ability of the quarterback to throw the ball and run it,” Petrino said. “They’ve got a very good running back that’s fast and we’re going to have to make sure we understand where he’s at and what type of runs we’re going to see from him.”

South Alabama coach Joey Jones has been keeping his own tabs on WKU for quite some time now. Jones told reporters in Mobile, Ala. during the week that WKU carried some of the best talent in the Sun Belt.

“When you look at them on film, they are a tremendous football team,” Jones said of WKU. “I’ve kind of peeked at all of the teams in the league, and they probably have the most talent of anybody in the conference.”

WKU has seen its share of talent to begin the season by opening up against two teams from the dominant Southeastern Conference in Kentucky and Tennessee — even if the two teams ride in the lower tier in comparison to their national champion counterparts.

But junior tight end Mitchell Henry said the team is preparing for South Alabama just like they have for every game this year.

“We can’t prepare for them any more lightly than we did for Kentucky and Tennessee,” Henry said. “They still have great players, they still have a good team and you can’t take any team lightly because they surprise you and then they beat you. You have to prepare for each team the same, just like they’re the best team in the nation.”

From what the team has evaluated on film, the Jaguar defense is going to be coming after the quarterback often.

“They’re a team that likes to get after the quarterback,” offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said after the team’s practice Tuesday. “They like to blitz and they like to be aggressive on defense. They’re not just going to sit back and let you pick them apart.”

If the offense wants to prove last week’s poor outing at Tennessee was a fluke, they’ll have to make a statement in the conference opener Saturday. Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty understands the team has to put their struggles away and focus on the next game — the most important game in the team’s eyes.

“We have to understand that they’re going to come after you and they’re going to try to make you feel uncomfortable, so we have to step up and make a play,” Doughty said. “We look at the next game as the most important game. South Alabama is the most important game to us.”