WKU wins 20-13 over UAB

Western Kentucky tight end Joshua Simon (right) runs to the end zone for a touchdown during WKU’s 20-13 win over UAB on Sept. 28, 2019, at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – Western Kentucky couldn’t get things going offensively in the second half of Saturday’s 37-14 loss to UAB at Legion Field.

But with just the production from the first half, Joshua Simon was able to put together his best game of the season so far.

The sophomore tight end was a big piece in WKU’s two scoring drives, and finished with a team-high six receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown after a quiet first four games.

“I felt like I played a pretty decent game,” Simon said after the loss. “I believe I had the most touches I’ve had this season and a touchdown to go along with that. I feel like I played a pretty good game.”

Simon entered Saturday’s matchup with seven receptions for 56 yards and a touchdown, after coming into the season with high expectations. He had 30 receptions for 430 yards and four touchdowns last year as a freshman, and was the only tight end in the country to have 100-plus yards in a bowl game last season. He was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman Team, a C-USA Honorable Mention pick and to The Athletic Freshman All-American Second Team. He came into the year with preseason first-team all-conference honors from Athlon Sports and Phil Steele Publications.

On Saturday, he nearly doubled his number of receptions from WKU’s first four games, and more than doubled his yards.

“I knew when my number was called, when the play was called, I had to go make a play,” Simon said. “We had some pretty good matchups, so I kind of knew going into the game I had to win those one-on-one matchups so I can do what I do.”

The biggest part of the production for the 6-foot-5, 235-pound Dalzell, S.C., native was that it led to points on the board.

In WKU’s first scoring drive Saturday, Simon caught three passes for 52 yards. It included receptions of 10, 25 and 17 yards – the final of which got the Hilltoppers to the UAB 6-yard line, and from there, quarterback Kevaris Thomas completed a touchdown pass to Mitchell Tinsley to take a 7-3 lead.

“It was just a couple plays that we had set up for Josh to get the ball in his hands because he’s one of our best players,” Thomas said.

Simon was targeted on the second play of WKU’s second scoring drive and drew a pass interference penalty. He caught passes of 17 and 6 yards in the drive, before capping off the 12-play, 75-yard series with a 6-yard touchdown reception on a pass that was tipped.

“There was a couple plays that he was going to be a high-percentage guy to get it,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said. “He’s not the only guy to get it. I was glad the ball found Josh. We did a couple things to try to get him the ball. It was good to see that production. We’ll hopefully be able to build off of that as well.”

The Hilltoppers struggled offensively in the second half as UAB pulled away. Simon didn’t record a reception, and the offense put up only 64 yards, including just 16 in the third quarter.

“They started recognizing a little bit more, shifting their coverages trying to kind of like take me out of the picture – the basic things, so I couldn’t go get 81 more,” Simon said.

Simon believes his connection with Thomas will continue to grow as the season progresses. Thomas was making his first-ever start at quarterback, and finished with 162 yards and two touchdowns on 16-of-35 passing, with two interceptions.

“I believe after today it’s going to get a little stronger. We always did have a good chemistry, but this is our first full game together, so it was kind of getting a feel for each other,” Simon said. “I feel like we can progress and move forward going into next week, look at the tape and see where we can improve.”

WKU is scheduled to host UT Chattanooga on Saturday in a 3 p.m. game at Houchens-Smith Stadium.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.