Posts Tagged ‘Western Kentucky football’

WKU football blog: North Texas week

October 28, 2008

Sorry for the long absence, but sometimes a bye week doesn’t provide much of anything to talk/write about. In any event, we’re back in full force now and ready to roll for the final four games of the year.

Early Mean Green thoughts:

Western Kentucky coach David Elson didn’t seem to be buying into the notion of North Texas (0-8) being a lost cause this year — saying that it shows plenty on film that could give the Hilltoppers problems if they’re not on their game this weekend.

“I think turnovers, tipped balls, a bad snap here or two and when it rains it pours — I kind of think that’s happened to them at times,” Elson said. “There’s some miscues here and there and I think they can look at it and point to that handful of plays that maybe would have made things closer and I doubt they think they would have won them all, but they’ve had opportunities.

“There’s definitely some things that I’m sure they’ve worked on that might have changed outcomes in some of those games and I’m sure it’s made them better overall.”

While Elson’s take on the Mean Green was a rather cautious one — considering they’re 0-8 and have allowed 50 points per game this season — he may actually have reason to be wary.

Most people remember last year’s season finale at North Texas for the post-game tussle and the Hilltoppers’ blown opportunities late in the game, but one thing that some may have forgotten is how the Mean Green virtually ran at will all over the WKU defense for the majority of the game.

Then UNT senior Jamario Thomas finished his day with 147 yards and three scores on the ground that proved to be the difference — pretty high numbers for a team that takes to the air nearly two-thirds of the time.

But given Florida Atlantic senior Charles Pierre’s rushing performance in a relatively pass-happy offense two weeks ago against WKU — Elson has said it’s crucial that his defense get back to its basics and stopping the run first.

“We’ve got to not lose sight (of the run) during the course of the game,” Elson said. “Sometimes you get a lead and you think they’re going to throw it and keep throwing it or you get them in a third and long situation and you think throw, throw … our numbers have them 65 percent pass and 35 percent run, so they’re going to run it.

“And that’s on me to make sure we don’t get too pass conscious in the way we call the defense and what we talk about on the sidelines from series to series and just making sure we stay focused on that — and then ultimately it’s tackling, we missed some tackles last year and it comes down to overall execution.”

Big line:

If you woke up and saw the latest betting lines for this weekend, you don’t need to adjust your eyes — the Hilltoppers are in fact a 16 1/2 point favorite against the Mean Green this weekend.

A line that seems awfully steep considering the fact that WKU has only two wins this season, and none against any FBS opponents. Granted it is a homecoming game against an 0-8 team — but let’s not forget how the Mean Green ended the Hilltoppers’ season ago in Denton, Texas with a 27-26 loss.

In any event, this officially marks the first time all season WKU won’t be an underdog in an FBS contest.

Trouble in Denton:

Brett Vito of the Denton Record-Chronicle reported today that 15 North Texas players failed a drug test conducted at the request of Mean Green coach Todd Dodge earlier this season.

There is no word as of yet on what players actually failed the test, nor is there any information on what led to the failed procedures or if anyone will be suspended for this weekend’s game.

Vito did report however that UNT’s athletic policy requires any first-time offender of the school’s drug policy to be subjected to future testing as well as drug counseling. Second- and third-time offenders will be subject to suspension and more counseling and fourth-time offenders will be dismissed from the team and have their scholarships revoked.

Either way you look at it, this news cannot be coming at a good time for Dodge and his program as the Mean Green are a paltry 2-18 under his watch since leaving the Texas high school ranks to lead North Texas in 2007.

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WKU football blog: Florida Atlantic week

October 16, 2008

Conference test:

When the 2008 season began, I circled what I thought was the most important game of the year on the WKU schedule.

It wasn’t at Kentucky, it wasn’t at Alabama or home to Ball State — it was Oct. 18 and home to defending Sun Belt and New Orleans Bowl champion Florida Atlantic.

And even though the Owls haven’t looked anything remotely close to a defending champion this season — they’ve struggled and limped to a 1-5 start — the chance to make a statement is still right there for the taking.

Regardless of its record, FAU is still very similar to the team that piled up nearly 4,000 passing yards last season and stunned Troy before knocking off Memphis in the New Orleans Bowl.

The Hilltoppers should be able to match up pound-for-pound with the Owls this Saturday. There won’t be any potential first-round NFL draft picks on the field, no 350-pound plus nose tackles that can slam dunk a basketball to deal with, and the game will be played at home.

WKU finished 1-2 against Sun Belt opponents last season, and lost two straight after gaining momentum with a mid-season win at Middle Tennessee. This portion of the schedule kicks off five straight games against the Hilltoppers’ future conference — all of them are winnable, and all of them will give an accurate measurement on where exactly this program is heading into its first official SBC year in 2009.

FAU scuffles:

Here’s something WKU and FAU fans might sympathize with each other on: people calling their teams dirty.

The Sun Belt had a messy situation on its hands recently when the Troy University sports information director sent in a nomination for injured Trojan quarterback Jamie Hampton for SBC Player of the Week. Hampton was lost for the season during an Oct. 7 game against the Owls, and ever since then, many of the Trojans have been crying foul play.

In fact, the Troy SID went as far as officially stating in his release that Hampton was unfortunately lost for the season. He then alleged that FAU defensive end Robert St. Clair “delivered a bulls-eye to Hampton’s knee.”

The Sun Belt has since sent an apology to FAU for the incident, as the league offices admitted that it failed to read over the release before sending it out officially.

A Rusty shoulder:

The Sun-Sentinel’s Ted Hutton reported earlier this week that FAU quarterback — and Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year — Rusty Smith recently admitted that he’s been playing much of the season with a separated left shoulder.

Smith said that his shoulder was separated during the Owls’ first game of the season, a 52-10 loss to current No. 1 Texas.

Smith has hardly looked like the player who threw for over 30 touchdowns and 3,500 yards last season — struggling through six games with just five touchdowns and a whopping nine interceptions (Smith threw just nine throughout all of 2007).

WKU football blog: K.J. Black to transfer

October 6, 2008

The K.J. Black era at Western Kentucky is over.

            WKU coach David Elson announced in a statement Monday afternoon that the school has officially given the sophomore quarterback a release from his scholarship, and permission to transfer.

            “We have been contacted by two schools that have received a release from K.J., and we will enable him to pursue his football career elsewhere,” Elson said in a statement. “I met with K.J. and his family last week, and I met with K.J. again today. We wish K.J. all the best and thank him for his contributions to our program as a student-athlete over the last three years.”

             Black began 2008 as the team’s starting quarterback before getting injured in a week-two game at Eastern Kentucky. Senior David Wolke then started the next two games before Black returned to start two weeks ago at Kentucky.

            Citing poor overall performance, Elson then announced last Tuesday that Black would no longer be the team’s starter – and that Wolke would take over the job for the remainder of 2008. Black then skipped practice later that evening – for reasons unknown – and failed to inform the team. 

            As reported in the Daily News last Thursday, Kenneth Black Sr. – K.J. Black’s father – said in an e-mail that Elson informed him on the telephone last Wednesday that Black “needs to find another school.”

            Elson confirmed Black Sr.’s comments early Monday afternoon.

            “Whatever his father said, I’m sure it’s precisely accurate,” Elson said.

            Elson would not go into further detail as to why he informed Black and his father that he needed to seek a school change.

            Black saw action in three total games as a starter this season for the Hilltoppers, throwing for 277 yards and one touchdown and running for another 68 yards. In 2007, Black saw action in all 12 games – starting two. For his career at WKU, Black went 115-of-182 through the air for 1,284 yards and nine touchdowns. He also ran for 392 yards and two scores.

Read more in Tuesday’s Daily News 

WKU football blog: K.J. Black situation

October 6, 2008

By NICK BAUMGARDNER

The Daily News

nbaumgardner@bgdailynews.com/783-3239

            Western Kentucky football coach David Elson confirmed on Monday that he did indeed inform sophomore quarterback K.J. Black that he needed to find another football program to play for.

            Elson did not speak of any updates early Monday afternoon with regard to Black’s current status with the team, but did say the team will likely release a statement about the matter later today.

            “Nothing has changed, but I’m hoping we’ll get some resolve by the end of the day and we’ll be able to comment on that,” Elson said. “A (press) release on exactly what’s going on will be released today.”

            Black began 2008 as the team’s starting quarterback before getting injured in a week-two game at Eastern Kentucky. Senior David Wolke then started the next two games before Black returned to start two weeks ago at Kentucky.

            Citing poor overall performance, Elson then announced last Tuesday that Black would no longer be the team’s starter – and that Wolke would take over the job for the remainder of 2008. Black then skipped practice later that evening – for reasons unknown – and failed to inform the team. 

            As reported in the Daily News last Thursday, Kenneth Black Sr. – K.J. Black’s father – said in an e-mail that Elson informed him on the telephone last Wednesday that Black “needs to find another school.”

            “Whatever his father said, I’m sure it’s precisely accurate,” Elson said.

            Elson added that Black was never asked to change his position on the team. 

For more information, read Tuesday’s Daily News.

WKU football blog: Virginia Tech post-game

October 4, 2008

Moral victory: 

If you didn’t know any better, you might think that Western Kentucky coach David Elson’s post-game press conference came after a Hilltopper victory. 

And while that certainly wasn’t the case on Saturday at Virginia Tech, Elson seemed ecstatic about the way his team fought back in the second half — and seemed to think that a team that has been searching high and low for an identity all season long, might have just found one.

“I couldn’t be prouder of how hard they fought,” Elson said. “They’ve obviously got a very good football team, and we battled through the fourth quarter and had some opportunities, and cleaned up some things and got even better opportunities — so we’ll learn from it, build on it, get back home and get back on that winning track hopefully.

“I think talking to a few of our guys this week, they’ve learned from those other (BCS) experiences. They know that if we do the right things and play with the right technique, that we’ve got a chance. We had a goal to beat one of (the four BCS teams on the 2008 schedule), and we didn’t — but I told them to get rid of that, we’re disappointed but we can’t do anything about it now — we’ve got some other goals that we want to attain, and I’m excited to get back to work.”

Senior quarterback David Wolke agreed, saying that the true goal coming into Saturday’s game was to just get better and find a way to compete — and he felt the team did just that.

“Coach talked to us about this, he wanted us to come out of this game knowing that we got better — and I think we did,” Wolke said. “The defense has showed up every week and played the best they can and done a really good job, and offensively we still have some things we need to work on and get fixed.

“But I think we did get better today.”

Junior linebacker Blake Boyd said if the team’s found it’s identity, then it’s definitely one of toughness.

“I think we’re definitely tough,” Boyd said. “This team, offense and defense, will come out and hit you in the mouth every play — we make stands, and on offense we try to run it down your throat.

“Our offensive line is tough, our defensive line is tough, and that’s something we’re trying to pride ourselves on.”

Crowd control:

Virginia Tech’s Lane Stadium has been recognized as one of the toughest, and loudest places to play in the country over the past 10 years. 

And though WKU has been to some raucous places across the country — Ben Hill Griffin Stadium at Florida, Sanford Stadium at Georgia, Bryant-Denny Stadium at Alabama and Jordan Hare Stadium in Auburn, Ala. — the consensus was that Lane Stadium was by far the loudest and most difficult to deal with.

“Tough, tough place to play,” Elson said. “Give their fans and their university some credit, you hear about it, but I think we had as much trouble with communication here as we’ve had anywhere — that I’ve ever been.”

Wolke said that the team had problems getting signals and plays relayed into the game with the headsets early on, and though it was fixed, it was still tough until the end.

“At the beginning of the game it was pretty bad,” Wolke said. “We had some trouble with the headset and some things, they couldn’t hear and I couldn’t get the plays in — this is one of the loudest stadiums I’ve ever been in.

“We got it fixed, but in the beginning there it was pretty bad, we missed a bunch of calls.

Offensive line progressing:

After struggling to do anything on the ground in four out of the team’s first five games, WKU shook up its offensive line this week.

And the end result wasn’t a win, but the team will certainly take the 148 yards rushing it gained against a pretty stout Virginia Tech defense.

“I think the o-line came out today to prove a point, and I think they did,” Wolke said. “They played great the whole game, and now everybody else has to do their jobs and execute more.

“But the o-line did their job and you’ve got to give a lot of credit to them.”

WKU football blog: mid-week roundup

October 1, 2008

Quarterback analysis:

Changing a starting quarterback mid-season due to performance is never an optimal situation for any football team.

But after analyzing both sophomore K.J. Black and senior David Wolke’s performances throughout the first five games, the Western Kentucky coaching staff seems to think that the change is needed to move forward in 2008.

Arguments for both Black and Wolke could be made as to who exactly deserves the starting job, but the only certainty here is that the offense needs some sort of jump start, and the staff clearly feels this may be the best way to do it.

WKU coach David Elson said on Monday that there would be no change at quarterback for Saturday’s game at Virginia Tech. But in the time between the press conference and practice on Tuesday, an overall change in heart was clearly had.

Elson said he wouldn’t get into specifics Tuesday as to what exactly the reasons for the change were, but after looking at his past comments, the lack of run production from the quarterback spot might be the answer.

Elson has been slightly critical of Black this season when it comes to being a north and south runner, saying that there have been times where he’s shuffled his feet a bit rather than getting up field.

“(The quarterbacks) need to run the ball, run the ball when they’re supposed to, read properly on the zone-read play and when they keep it get north and south and get positive yards,” Elson said on Monday. “At times (K.J. danced in the hole some), and we told him he needs to get north and south — had a few good runs and then there were some where he could have been more deliberate when he made his cuts and got down field.”

While there’s no question that both Black and Wolke are agile enough to be effective in the spread-option, Elson and the staff seem to feel that Wolke can be more effective when it comes to getting up field. Black may have more of a big-play type capability with his ability to improvise, but Wolke’s more of a downhill runner and that could be something the staff feels will help open holes for the struggling running backs.

As far as Black’s absence from practice on Tuesday, it appears to be anyone’s guess right now as far as what exactly the problem is. Black’s father Kenneth Sr. was quoted in Wednesday’s Daily News saying he wasn’t exactly sure either why his son missed practice, but there is no indication that he’s considering leaving the program.

Either way, it’s not exactly a good situation for the Hilltoppers to be in.

Make no mistake, WKU needs a healthy-bodied, and healthy-minded, K.J. Black to be successful in the future. Because next season, he’ll have more experience at the position than any of the other five quarterbacks put together.

But as of right now, the keys to the 2008 offense appear to have been handed over to Wolke on a permanent basis. And whether or not anyone agrees or disagrees with the decision, handing over the reins of a struggling offense to a fifth-year senior might not be the worst thing in the world.

Injuries galore:

A slew of notables sat out practice for one injury reason or another on Tuesday.

The list of players not participating were receiver Quinterrance Cooper (foot), linebacker Alonzo Higgins (foot), cornerback Rashad Etheridge (shoulder), receiver Wenquel Graves (unknown), nose tackle Terald Clark (lower body) and offensive lineman Shelley Anthony (unknown).

Keep in mind that it’s not uncommon for WKU to hold out a good number of ailing players early in the week, and the official status for these individuals for Saturday isn’t known at this point.

WKU football blog: Monday press conference

September 30, 2008

Still competing:

After Western Kentucky’s loss to Alabama earlier this season, coach David Elson said the biggest positive he and his coaching staff took from watching the game film was that even though the team was down big, the players were still competing and fighting to the end.

When asked if he thought the same after watching Saturday’s 41-3 loss to Kentucky, Elson said he did.

“They competed,” Elson said. “It didn’t feel very good in the second half there and we were discouraged, but there wasn’t any lack of effort or lack of competing or anything.”

Elson said the biggest difference in the second half was Kentucky — and how well the Wildcats performed.

“I’ll give credit to Kentucky, they did a very good job in the second half,” Elson said. “They got into a rhythm and a groove with getting the ball outside in their one back set.

“Part of that falls on me, we could have maybe adjusted a little bit better, but you’ve got to give them credit — our guys fought and competed but it was that momentum factor once again.”

Special teams letdown:

WKU’s special teams play had been something it was hanging its hat on through the season’s first four games. But when UK’s Derrick Locke ran virtually untouched for a crushing 100-yard kickoff return score on Saturday, the once sparkling Hilltopper specialty units had a bit of explaining to do.

Elson said that the biggest problem with the Locke return was in fact the kickoff itself, as it didn’t have enough hang time to allow the gunners to cover the kick.

“The biggest thing is the kicks, and people don’t realize that,” Elson said. “We’re not getting enough hang time, and I thought in person that (senior kicker) Tanner (Siewert’s) kick was good in person because it got to the goal line, but just getting to the goal line doesn’t mean it’s a good kick.

“There’s an equation that if it’s so many yards, then the hang time needs to be so much so the guys can get down and cover — and also, they did a very good job of executing their return.”

Elson said that he still feels extremely confident in his special teams unit, and declared that he felt no one in the country spends more time working on them than WKU does.

Weekly grind:

Before the start of the 2008 season, Elson said one of the biggest things the team needed to adjust to was the weekly grind of an FBS schedule.

Unlike years past, there aren’t very many “easy” games on the slate, and playing each game with the same intensity is something the team is learning to deal with.

“I think we’re getting there,” Elson said. “I’ve thought about the lessons truly learned here, and it’s just week in and week out against this kind of competition you’ll have those momentum swings that maybe against lesser competition you could have fought your way out of maybe in the third or fourth quarter.

“But we’ve got to be able to fight out of them now, and respond right back, because against good competition will continue to take advantage of it and continue to build a lead.”

Elson said the fact that the team has played five of its first six games away from Houchens-Smith Stadium isn’t helping anything, but again, it’s something the team has to learn to fight through.

“This will be our sixth game and five out of six have been on the road, and that’s probably not something that’s going to happen again — I hope not at least,” Elson said. “But they’ve handled it great, man, they’ve had great attitudes and when we go back and look and ask if I misread if we had better practices than I thought.

“But coaches and players agree, we did have a good week of practices. Our guys can’t get discouraged because we had a good week of practice and then the Saturday result wasn’t what we wanted it to be, we’ve got to keep knocking on that door and eventually it will open.”

Injury update:

Elson said he wasn’t fully aware of how severe junior cornerback Rashad Etheridge’s dislocated shoulder was Monday.

Etheridge left the game in the second half and did not return.

WKU football blog: UK postgame

September 28, 2008

Opportunities missed: 

Similar to the season opener at Indiana, Western Kentucky let several chances to swing the tide of the game slip through its fingers Saturday at Kentucky.

The first chance came early in the first quarter after senior Marcus Minor picked off a high pass from UK sophomore Mike Hartline and brought the ball down to the Wildcat 41. With the score at just 3-0 in favor of Kentucky, the opportunity to take the crowd out of the game and take its first lead against a BCS opponent this season was in WKU’s grasp.

But three offensive plays resulted in a loss of eight yards and the Hilltoppers were forced to punt the ball away.

After Tony Dixon’s one-yard run put the Wildcats up 10-0 early in the second, WKU was able to use a direct snap run from redshirt freshman Bobby Rainey to once again move into Kentucky territory — giving itself a great chance to get at least three points on the board. But once again, the next three plays resulted in a loss of yardage — minus three — and Jeremy Moore had to punt yet again. 

Perhaps the biggest missed chance of the game — and the one that most likely did WKU in — was after Tanner Siewert booted a career-long 50-yard field goal with just 3:07 to play in the half. As dreadful as WKU looked on offense in the first half, it was in prime position to go into the lockerroom only down a touchdown.

But UK sophomore Derrick Locke scrapped that when he went virtually untouched down the WKU sideline on the ensuing kickoff for a 100-yard touchdown. 

WKU didn’t do itself any favors defensively on the first drive of the second half, letting UK rip down the field in just six plays to go up 24-7 — but the Locke touchdown appeared to take any wind left out of the Hilltopper sails. 

On top of all that, WKU allowed UK to convert 7-of-13 third downs and failed to get one sack on a struggling young quarterback in Hartline. 

If there have been two themes this season for WKU, they’ve clearly been slow starts and missed chances — and those two themes have directly resulted in a 2-3 record and an 0-3 mark against BCS opponents.

Brooks defends Hartline:

Once again, UK quarterback Mike Hartline didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard or turn any heads with his play. 

But Wildcat coach Rich Brooks doesn’t seem to care about any of that, as his sophomore quarterback has yet to lose as a starter.

“Mike Hartline is 4-0 as a starting quarterback,” Brooks said. “He’s thrown one interception and I don’t know how many touchdowns, quite a few. He’s doing a really good job of handling situations — he made some mistakes out there tonight that he’ll continue to learn from.

“The great news is that we have a young quarterback learning while we win.”

Other notes from the UK sidelines: The Wildcats have won 13 consecutive non-conference games, the longest such streak since a 17-game stretch from 1954-1960. … The last time Kentucky started two consecutive seasons 4-0 was 1983-84. … Through four games this season, UK has yet to allow a rushing touchdown and dating back to last season, the WIldcats have scored at least 20 points in six straight games.

Topper tidbits: 

For the first time all season, WKU failed to get into the redzone for an entire game. … The 158 yards of total offense is exactly one yard less than the Hilltoppers gained in their 41-7 loss to their other 2008 SEC opponent — Alabama. The Hilltoppers averaged about 3.2 yards per play in both defeats. … The eight punts by WKU on Saturday was a season-high, as the team punted eight times during its opening week defeat at Indiana. … Saturday was the lowest penalized game all season for the Hilltoppers, as they committed just one infraction for 15 yards. … In three losses to BCS schools this season, WKU has allowed an average of 264.6 yards per game on the ground.

WKU football blog: Murray State postgame

September 21, 2008

Special teams impress:

The obvious big play Saturday was redshirt freshman Bobby Rainey’s 92-yard kickoff return that set up a Marell Booker score.

But the Hilltopper special teams also chipped in with two blocked kicks –- an extra point and a field goal — and senior kicker Tanner Siewert booted three field goals.

“We wanted to pin them inside the 20 six times with our coverage teams, which I think we did, and we wanted to get our return game going, and by moving Bobby back there we just know he can do some big things,” Elson said. “And once again, it’s a momentum changer for your football team to get a good return or to block a kick.

“And with Bobby … he’s really starting to develop a role on our football team, and with so much depth at tailback, so one way to get him touches is in the return game and that worked out for us tonight.”

Boyd dominates again:

Through four games this season, the undisputed star of the WKU defense has been junior outside linebacker Blake Boyd.

Boyd finished off another fine outing Saturday with five tackles and an interception return for a touchdown.

“I can’t say enough about Blake Boyd and how he’s played over these first four games,” Elson said. “Coming off an ACL injury last year, he’s leading our defense right now in my mind and doing a great job of making plays and being an enforcer out there.”

For the season, Boyd is second on the team in tackles with 24, and first on the team in tackles for loss with five. Boys also has three pass breakups.

Cooper finds his way:

After struggling to find any consistency so far this season, sophomore wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper finally was able to break out on Saturday.

And he did it in a big way, scoring on a 54-yard touchdown in the third quarter.

“I was glad to see Quinterrance get going,” Elson said. “He maybe hasn’t been playing as well and we were playing some other guys a little bit more than him and I know that’s bothered him.

“But he stayed strong and when you do that good things happen.”

After freshman Derrius Brooks went down on the first play of the game –- adding to the loss of junior Jake Gaebler, who was out with a back injury — the Hilltopper receiving depth was forced to step up.

“We thought we had depth at receiver and I think tonight showed that we do,” Elson said.

Running issues:

While the WKU running game didn’t appear to be as dominant as it has in the past — finishing with only 116 yards on 38 carries — Elson said a good amount of that had to due with Murray State’s defensive game plan of forcing the Hilltoppers to take to the air.

“They really didn’t back off much, and it was frustrating,” Elson said. “I wanted us to get our running game going more and I know our offensive coaches did as well. We just have to look at it and see exactly what we’re doing and keep working to improve it.”

Early Kentucky thoughts:

With the first home game of the 2008 season now officially in the books, the Hilltoppers will focus on another program first — a visit to Kentucky.

“I have a ton of respect for (Kentucky coach) Rich Brooks and (offensive coordinator) Joker Phillips, I know a lot of guys on their staff and have for years,” Elson said. “I’m happy they’re having the success that they’ve had because their good people, I just hope they don’t have it next Saturday.

“But we’re excited, when we announced this I felt like an idiot because I didn’t know we have never played Kentucky in football — and this all kind of ties in with the “making history” thing, and our Kentucky (born) players are all excited about it and it’s a great opportunity.”

WKU football blog: Thursday tidbits

September 18, 2008

Picking up the pace:

After three straight sluggish starts, Western Kentucky has put an emphasis this week on coming out in its home opener with more of a purpose.

WKU coach David Elson said Thursday that one of his biggest points this week was to focus on starting out strong instead of slowly finding a way.

“I’ve felt good about (practice) this week, we’ve started doing a period of practice where we go through game scenarios and I think that’s helped us,” Elson said. “I think it’s a good change up and it’s more game like than our normal practice.

“So I’m hoping that’s going to help us and I think it’s definitely helped our tempo in practice.”

Elson said the focus has been a bit better this week, as opposed to last week when he stopped Tuesday’s practice midway through to punish the team for leaving trash in the locker room — a situation that disrupted practice for nearly 30 minutes. 

So with a smoother week thus far, Elson said the goal is to jump out early on Murray State and have everything hit the ground running.

“It’s definitely something we’ve talked about,” Elson said. “We’re excited about being at home and we want to show that by coming out and having a good start and just be in attack mode.

“Let’s defend our place by attacking in all three phases of the game and bring that edge and that mentality to everything we do on Saturday, and do it early.”

At the same time, Elson said his players need to be careful to not get so excited that mental lapses begin to happen at a frequent rate early in the contest.

“This almost feels like a homecoming, and we have to realize what our part is in that we have to put on a good showing for our fans and put a good product on the field,” Elson said. “But I’m not going to hold them back, they’re excited and have to learn to be excited and play that way.

“I think it’s a good thing and I’m looking forward to see how fired up they come out.”

Unseen motivation:

While the suspension of Murray State coach Matt Griffin for Saturday’s game might seem like a huge disadvantage for the Racers, Elson admitted Thursday that the situation could actually lead the opposition to a sense of added motivation.

“That was the first thing that went through my mind when I saw he got suspended, I said ‘oh great, they’re going to be fired up and wanting to play for their coach,'” Elson said. “I don’t know Matt Griffin very well, I do know he’s a good coach and he did a nice job at Tennessee-Martin, so it’s something that we’re aware of but we won’t know until we get out there.”

When asked what WKU would do if a situation similar to Griffin’s ever occurred to him, Elson simply said that there doesn’t need to be a contingency plan set in place.

“I can assure you we won’t ever have to deal with that,” Elson said with a grin.

Athletic focus:

With the emergence of athletic freshman Derrius Brooks and Tristan Jones in the WKU passing offense this season — along with the high focus on athleticism in WKU’s 2008 recruiting class — it appears that legitimate speed and big-play capability is something that the Hilltopper coaching staff is zeroing in on for the future.

With the type of spread offense WKU runs, having quick, fast, mobile athletes all over the field seems to be the best formula for success — just ask West Virginia.

“Speed an athleticism, no question, that’s what we’re looking for,” Elson said. “I think you have to have a system and adapt it to a personnel and not change systems every year.

“And the more speed and athleticism we have, the more we’re going to be able to spread it out.”

Kicking solidification: 

After junior kicker Zac Minturn won the kicking job in fall camp, senior Tanner Siewert hasn’t needed much time to unseat him.

Elson said Thursday that Siewert is now the team’s undisputed No. 1 kicker, saying that he’s simply outperformed Minturn in every facet of the position.

“Tanner’s our guy, no matter where we’re at,” Elson said. “He’s outperformed Zac in practice and everything else so he’s our kicker.”