Football Notes: WKU looks to end three-year skid to MTSU

Junior running back Bobby Rainey gains several yards for WKU before being tackled by Middle Tennessee safety Jeremy Kellem. WKU went on to lose the game 26-27. The Toppers will look to break a three-year losing streak to MTSU on Thursday.

Brad Stephens

WKU players should know Middle Tennessee State pretty well by now.

The Toppers have played MTSU each of the last four years, with the last two coming as Sun Belt Conference matchups.

The Blue Raiders will be going for their fourth straight win over WKU at 7 p.m. Thursday night at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro.

Last year’s loss was especially painful for WKU, as MTSU came back from a 16-point second half deficit to stun the Toppers, 27-26, in WKU’s 2010 home finale.

Junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes emphasized Tuesday the importance of making the hour-and-a-half trip to Murfreesboro and stopping that three-year streak.

“To me I think it’s very important just because of what happened last year and them being right up the road,” Jakes said. “We just don’t like Middle as much. You’re happy to play in games like this and come out with a W.”

Jakes and the Toppers will be gunning for the win with one of their biggest weapons, sophomore running back and kick/punt returner Antonio Andrews, out with an ankle injury.

WKU will give MTSU a steady dose of senior running back Bobby Rainey, who ran for a career-high 248 yards on a school-record 45 carries last season against the Blue Raiders.

Jakes will also look to a young group of wide receivers who have been required to step up in the wake of junior wideout Marcus Vasquez’s anterior cruciate ligament tear Sept. 17 against Indiana State.

The roles for freshman Rico Brown, sophomore Jamarielle Brown and junior Dexter Haynes have all increased in Vasquez’s absence.

“It makes those younger receivers happy because they’re getting in the game,” Jakes said. “With them catching more balls in practice, it gets them ready to play and more focused.”

Another potential weapon at wide receiver would be sophomore Willie McNeal, who returned to practice last week after tearing multiple knee ligaments in a spring practice injury.

A Louisville Courier-Journal report last Thursday said McNeal could play against MTSU, but that was not confirmed by team officials.

Defensively, the Toppers will benefit from having junior safety Kareem Peterson back for the second straight week after missing the first three games of the season with a knee injury.

He said playing Arkansas State, a passing team, one week ago was good practice for a potent MTSU passing attack led by sophomore quarterback Logan Kilgore.

Kilgore has thrown for 1,139 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions this season.

But Peterson said he’s picked up on tendencies in Kilgore’s game of which the WKU defense can take advantage.

“He looks okay. I’m pretty much looking at his throwing motion,” Peterson said. “He’s got sort of a side-armed release and we’ve got some pretty tall defensive ends. If we get in his face we can force some turnovers.”

Homecoming for Peterson

Kareem Peterson will be in familiar surroundings Thursday.

The junior safety was an all-state receiver at Marshall County High School in Lewisburg, Tenn., a short drive from the MTSU campus.

Peterson rose to the occasion in 2009, his first game against his hometown team, tallying a team-high 11 tackles.

He said he wants a similar performance this year, but with a Topper victory included.

“This is a rivalry for our school and I definitely don’t care where I’m from, I want to run up the score on them and treat them just like anyone else,” Peterson said.

He said he hasn’t talked much with family and friends back home this week but hopes to talk some smack after the game.

“I’m trying to focus on the game,” Peterson said. “We’ll talk after the game when we look at the scoreboard.”

MTSU’s Cunningham ‘game-time decision’

MTSU may be without its leading runner, junior Benjamin Cunningham, Thursday as he nurses an injured foot.

Blue Raider Head Coach Rick Stockstill said Monday that Cunningham will be a “game-time decision” and hasn’t announced anything to the contrary since.

Cunningham has 287 yards on 54 carries this season, with two rushing touchdowns, and 138 yards on nine catches with one receiving touchdowns.

He left in the second quarter of MTSU’s 38-31 win over Memphis on Saturday with a foot injury.

Should Cunningham be unable to play, D.D. Kyles and William Pratcher will shoulder much of the running game for the Blue Raiders.

Kyles has 179 yards on 39 carries with two rushing touchdowns and three catches for 36 yards. Pratcher has 25 carries this season for 141 yards.