In a season highlighted by many firsts, Western Kentucky hopes to cross another first off the list tonight at Veterans Memorial Stadium on the campus of Troy University.
WKU (4-1, 1-0 Sun Belt Conference) has never won there in four tries. The game could derail the Tops’ season, or propel it even further along the road to a title or possible bowl bid.
Kickoff is at 6:30 p.m. and the game will be televised live by ESPNU.
“We’re on a nice little streak right now,” WKU wide receiver Jamarielle Brown said. “Our game plan really isn’t going to change. We’re going to do what we do best and pull out another ‘W.’ ”
Western Kentucky hasn’t lost a league game since Oct. 1, 2011. The Tops haven’t lost a Sun Belt Conference game in eight tries – a streak second in Bowl Subdivision college football to Northern Illinois’ 10-game run.
The Tops are also 8-3 in their last 11 road games, with the three losses coming against then-No. 1 LSU last year, No. 1 Alabama last month and Troy on Nov. 27, 2010.
To avenge that latter defeat and to earn the program’s first win at Troy, WKU will need a strong game out of quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who is officially listed as “probable” for tonight.
Jakes injured his left knee Sept. 29 in the team’s 26-13 win at Arkansas State. The senior missed the second half and has been wearing a brace on the injured knee at practice. He’ll wear that brace tonight if he does indeed start.
“By me getting up (at the time), I didn’t think it was anything major,” Jakes said of the injury. “It hurt and I couldn’t maneuver how I wanted to. But I knew (trainer) Danny (Cobble) would get me right and I’d be back soon.
“There’s never a right time to get injured, but if I had to, it did come at the right time. I’ve been getting rehab, Danny’s been looking out for me and I’ve been trying to get better.”
Jakes’ backup, James Mauro, proved a worthy successor in Jakes’ absence, going 8 of 12 for 104 yards and two scores against ASU.
WKU coach Willie Taggart and quarterbacks coach Nick Sheridan said the week of preparation hasn’t changed and that Jakes and Mauro are capable of running the Tops’ offense, which is getting stronger by the week.
Western Kentucky has the league’s second-ranked rushing offense, thanks in large part to junior running back Antonio Andrews (108.4 yards per game).
WKU’s offense will be licking its chops tonight against Troy’s defense, which is allowing 188.8 yards per game on the ground.
“I really think that Western, right now, is the best team in the league, maybe really closely in competition with (Louisiana-Lafayette) and (Louisiana-Monroe),” Troy coach Larry Blakeney said. “The rest of us are sort of trying to find who we are and what we are and where we rank.”
Troy’s offense hasn’t been too shabby either.
Led by junior quarterback and Paducah native Corey Robinson, the Trojans (3-2, 2-1 SBC) have the conference’s top passing attack and second-ranked total offense.
Shawn Southward (103.2 ypg) has also provided Troy a solid rushing attack, and Blakeney has provided a new offensive wrinkle, inserting Deon Anthony as a dual-threat QB at times.
“You’ve got to look at everything they’re doing,” WKU defensive coordinator Lance Guidry said. “They are starting to get (Anthony) a little bit more involved in the offense, letting him throw the ball a little bit more. You treat it as a Wildcat, but he does run some of their regular plays.
“Of course, the Robinson kid, he throws the ball all over the place and when he’s hot, he’s hot. We’re going to have to play really, really well.”
A win for the Hilltoppers would set up a showdown Oct. 20 with Louisiana-Monroe on WKU’s homecoming. A win for Troy could announce to the Sun Belt that the Trojans – winners of five of the last six league titles – are back for good after a 3-9 2011.
Blakeney said earlier this week, however, that WKU is the new measuring stick.
“We’re not falling for that one,” Taggart said. “(Blakeney) is a great coach and a great person, too, but we’re not going to fall for that one. We hadn’t done anything around here.
“You knew a coach Blakeney team wasn’t going to be down for long, and he’s got those guys playing like Troy’s been playing in the past. We’ve got to go down there and play like our lives depend on it. That’s how we’ve been playing all year and can’t stop now.”
NOTES — Running back Keshawn Simpson is listed as questionable for tonight’s contest, although the junior hasn’t practiced with the team all week. ... Sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling, suspended for the Arkansas State game due to an illegal hit against Southern Mississippi on Sept. 22, is listed as the starter for tonight’s game. ... The Hilltoppers have won the time-of-possession battle in 15 straight games and have gone three-and-out just three times in 61 offensive possessions this season.