Notes: WKU holds final practice before season

Brad Stephens

Junior receiver Marcus Vasquez came barreling out of the Smith Stadium locker room before WKU’s final preseason practice on Tuesday, jumping around with a big grin.

He said the enthusiasm of playing UK in just two days was the source of the extra energy.

“I can’t wait to play,” Vasquez said. “I’ve been waiting all spring, all summer long, getting ready for this, and it’s game time, man.

“That’s what we look forward to, that’s what we practice for, and we’re ready to play.”

The Chula Vista, Calif., native will be the elder statesman of the WKU receiving corps Thursday.

The Toppers’ other two starters, sophomore Jamarielle Brown and freshman Boe Brand, will both be making their first collegiate starts.

Vasquez said the young receiving corps will be up to the test.

“We’ve been working to where they’re not going to be nervous, they’re not going to feel like they’re the young guys out there,” he said. “I expect everybody to go out and play like they practice.”

With WKU-UK being on ESPNU Thursday, it will mark the first time the Toppers have been on national television in Taggart’s two-year tenure.

Vasquez said he wants America to fear WKU when chatting at the water cooler Friday morning.

“I want them to say we’re ruthless,” he said. “We’re going to go out there and go harder than they’ve ever felt, hit the hardest they’ve ever felt, and we’ll go out there to win.”

Guidry talks tackling, turnovers, Morgan Newton

WKU players have said throughout fall camp that new defensive coordinator Lance Guidry brought more energy to the defensive side of the ball when he was hired this winter.

The energetic Guidry will finally get to see his Topper players take the field in a game when WKU opens its season Thursday against Kentucky at L.P. Field in Nashville.

UK used big plays last season to route the Toppers, 63-28.

Guidry said preventing those big plays in this meeting will come down to finishing tackles.

“You can’t have a bunch of missed tackles; you have to bring the guy down,” Guidry said. “Sometimes you miss, so you have to get other guys firing their cap at them too.

“You’re going to give up some big pass plays, but you’ve got to get the guy down after he catches it and live to the next down.”

Another of Guidry’s priorities for the 2011 Toppers has been turnovers, as WKU accumulated just 14 takeaways a year ago.

He said he’d like his defense to get “about three” per game, but would happily accept more.

“If they get four, we’ve got to get five,” Guidry said. “We’ve got to get more turnovers than the opposing defense, so we’ll see who the best is that night.”

As for scouting the Wildcats, Guidry spoke highly of junior quarterback Morgan Newton.

Newton saw significant time under center in 2009, but spent most of last season backing up then-senior Mike Hartline.

Thanks to a Hartline suspension, Newton started in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh.

Despite losing, Newton made a play against the Panthers that impressed Guidry.

“One play that sticks out in my mind was a forth and short,” Guidry said. “They ran a naked (bootleg) with him. It was a designed run. The defensive back was going to tackle him in the backfield and he stiff armed him to get the first down.

“He’s a big kid, and we’re going to have to get a lot of people to him.”

Guidry said that despite Newton’s athleticism, he considers him more of a passer than a scrambler. He added that Newton reminded him of Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger because of his size and playmaking abilities.

“He’s a quarterback first, and he happens to be an athlete,” Guidry said. “He keeps plays alive because he’s big.

“I’m not going to say he’s Ben Roethlisberger, but he does those sorts of things.”

‘Angry’ Andrew Jackson looks back on fall camp

Every year, it seems one player comes from seemingly nowhere during fall camp and earns a significant spot on the roster.

This year that honor fell to Andrew Jackson, a sophomore linebacker that wasn’t on the two-deep depth chart at the beginning of fall camp.

But Jackson consistently impressed Head Coach Willie Taggart, Guidry and other players in camp because of his aggression on the practice field.

He was rewarded for those efforts Monday when WKU released its depth chart for the UK game, and he was sitting at the top of the middle linebacker spot.

Jackson said it was important for him to take it upon himself to prove the doubters wrong.

“Last year I was tired of (people) picking on us because we’re a Sun Belt (Conference) team,” he said. “I used my intensity and my aggression as motivation for the rest of my defense.”

Jackson said he has spent extra time both in the film room and talking with linebackers coach Karl Maslowski, looking for ways to improve.

“Those things helped me improve the mental side of the game,” Jackson said. “Because the physical part was already there, I needed to improve in the mental aspect.”

He said he’s prepared well enough to prove the coaches right in their decision to start him against UK.

“It’s a big challenge,” Jackson said. “I’m ready for it.”