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Western Kentucky defensive back Omari Alexander (left) breaks up a pass intended for Liberty’s Emanuel Dabney on Sept. 19 during WKU’s 30-24 loss at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Western Kentucky has played five games this season, but its sixth opponent hasn’t played any.

That’s leaving the Hilltopper defense relying on film from 2019 to prepare for Saturday’s game against Chattanooga. With it also being the only game the Mocs will play this fall, WKU is anticipating them to pull out all of the stops.

“It’s a unique challenge, I’d say. It’s kind of rare that you’ve played five games and the team you’re about to play in whatever week it is – Week 6 – they haven’t played a game, so we’re relying on film from 2019,” WKU defensive end Juwuan Jones said. “We’re kind of expecting the unexpected. We expect them to do a lot of different things – a lot of trick plays, a lot of stuff that they wouldn’t normally do if it was a full regular season.”

Chattanooga will be playing for the first time in 336 days. The Southern Conference Council of Presidents announced the league would not have fall league competition in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic but allowed for nonconference contests at each institutions’ discretion. The Mocs are scheduled to compete in the spring, but Saturday’s game marks their only game this fall.

“It’s tough, man, because it’s like a first game all over again,” WKU co-defensive coordinator Maurice Crum said. “You think you have an idea based on what they did last year, but you don’t know what they’ve been studying, they’ve had extra time over COVID, so who knows what they’re going to come out in? But that’s why you play the game – for the challenge – and it’s going to be fun.”

The Mocs were pretty even in most aspects of the game last fall. Chattanooga went 6-6, and its 26.2 points-per-game offense averaged 197.7 yards rushing and 192.2 yards passing in 2019.

Crum said the Mocs remind him a little bit of Louisville and UAB in what they do in the run game. WKU lost to Louisville 35-21 in the opener and surrendered 144 yards rushing. The Hilltoppers are coming off a 37-14 loss at UAB where they allowed 217 yards rushing – 71 of which came on one long touchdown run from DeWayne McBride.

The Mocs return four starters on the offensive line, as well as sophomore running back Ailym Ford – the SoCon Freshman of the Year. Ford led Chattanooga with 1,081 yards and nine touchdowns on 206 attempts, but suffered a season-ending injury in the team’s 10th game. His 108.1 yards rushing per game led all freshmen in Division I football.

“They’ve got a little bit of carryover, but the run game – I will say that’s where the similarities are from what we’ve seen,” Crum said. “Hopefully we see that, but if not, we’ll be ready for whatever they decide to do.”

Chattanooga graduated quarterback Nick Tiano, who threw for 2,242 yards and 14 touchdowns last season, and have named Drayton Arnold the starter for Saturday. Cole Copeland, the starter in 2017, has also returned to the team after a one-year hiatus.

Jones calls Arnold, who appeared in three games last year, more of a dual-threat quarterback than Tiano, and said the Hilltoppers expect him to run the ball some himself. The Hilltoppers have faced multiple dual-threat quarterbacks this season, including Louisville’s Micale Cunningham, Liberty’s Malik Willis and Middle Tennessee’s Asher O’Hara.

“They lost their quarterback, but the quarterback behind him is a little bit more dual-threat, so we expect them to do a little bit different things than last year, probably run the quarterback more than they did last year, but we expect them to be the same balanced attack and run the ball first to set up the pass,” Jones said.

With a new quarterback, Crum said WKU has had to look back at their history as far as possible, and he believes Chattanooga’s balance can help them out – “The pass can set up the run or the run can set up the pass. It’s just a matter of what’s flowing for them,” he says.

Chattanooga coach Rusty Wright said Tuesday the team is game planning offensively for WKU like it would anyone else, despite that fact that it’s the one and only game the Mocs will play in 2020.

“We kind of do what we do offensively,” Wright said. “There’s not a whole lot different from week to week. You don’t have to worry about what we’re going to line up and do to you – you know Ailyn’s going to be back there in the backfield and we’re going to try to get better at wideout and we’re going to try to get the ball to Bryce (Nunnelly) and do some other things, but there’s no mystery what we do offensively.

“It makes it a little hard, it does, because that’s probably the best front we’ll play for a while. I know it’ll be the best defensive front we play this year. It does make it a little hard, but we’ll have a pretty good plan going in.”

Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 3 p.m.{&end}

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

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