We're changing up the usual Thursday preview from last season. instead of focusing on Xs and Os (which will fall more into Friday territory now), we'll talk about our upcoming opponent. We didn't talk about Austin Peay because 1,000 words on a dead guy is probably overkill. (Jokes!)
So did WKU, for that matter, after Willie Taggart got on the bus to South Florida (then got run over by the bus). Petrino is, for all intents and purposes, a hired gun, but he's a good one at that with a proven track record on - and yes, off - the field. Even though the usual Year 1 caveats apply, don't underestimate a team transitioning from a good coach in Taggart - who, horrid loss aside, shows the signs of being a good coach - to an arguably better one in Petrino. Yes, it could all blow up, but it's probably not all blowing up on Saturday.
We figured Antonio Andrews (99 yds, 20 car, 1 TD) was going to be a feature back, and those carries bear it out. What we didn't know was that Leon Allen (92 yds, 10 car, 1 TD) would provide an excellent spark, and we definitely didn't count on a third guy pulling in 2 TDs last week - Keshawn Simpson.
Petrino tends to prefer bigger backs if he can get away with it. He also has expressed a preference for a single-back system in the past, but looking through his Arkansas years seems to give him the lie; admittedly, 2011 was a bit of a lost year thanks to Knile Davis, Regardless, it doesn't look like he's using a feature back yet. That being said, Andrews (6'0", 219) isn't the biggest guy on the roster. Both Allen (6'0", 235) and Simpson (6'0" 245) have him beat.
It's difficult to discern from a single game what the RB rotation will look like, but we'll try. Expect Andrews to function as the every-down back while Allen and Simpson serve as situational plays; Simpson's likely the short-yardage specialist of the two, while quite frankly I don't know what Allen brings to the table. Looking through play-by-play stats from last week, he seemed to only be in for certain drives; I don't know what that means but it sounds important.
Brandon Doughty is making his second start ever. Kentucky was pretty nice to him (27/34, 271 yds, 8.0 YPA, 1 TD) - and Petrino can coach up QBs something serious - but Neyland Stadium is not a partially disinterested neutral site. This is a road start for him, and that should make a bit of a difference, provided the crowd's in the game.
Then again, he may not be much to be concerned about; 10 yards per completion screams volume passer and short routes.
Fittingly enough, none of the receivers appeared that explosive either. TE Mitchell Henry (6 rec, 65 yds, 1 TD) was a legitimate target. Seven guys picked up at least two catches (key names based on last week: Willie McNeal (6 rec, 57 yds), Taywan Taylor (4 rec, 23 yds)). None of those numbers scare me outright, and based on other Petrino offense (we see you, DJ Williams), an involved TE shouldn't come as a surprise.
Name grades: Taywan Taylor and Keshawn Simpson seem to be the best of the skill positions, and they're just B- / C+ material. There's a lot of alliteration here - Antonio Andrews, Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris - which I really hope was why these guys were recruited. On the line, though? Charleston Antwine, Forrest Lamp (I really hope his middle name is Sawmill), and Cameron Clemmons (alliteration!) are all solid at worst. Charleston Antwine is a B+, but we're grading on a curve here - you'll understand why later.
Respect Andrew Jackson, who was a wrecking crew last year and the best returning defender for WKU. Admittedly, the rest of the D wasn't great, but he did this last week so you know, buyer beware.
They'll do some damage behind the line - five guys recorded TFL last week, including Jackson. Xavius Boyd, Bar'ee Boyd, and Tyree Robinson all recorded 2+ TFL.
The LB corps - who, for the record, employ Jackson and both the Boyds - appears to be their key unit, based on the frequency by which we've talked about them so far.
Jonathan Dowling might be a familiar name to some; the ex-Florida FS plays for the HIlltoppers now and finished with 8 tackles last week (7 solo, leading the team).
As a unit, the D had some boom/bust action going on last week. WKU gave up 419 yards in 60 plays last week, which is ...not good. Now, let's take into account that 10 of those plays went for -31 yards. That's a good ratio of penetration, but if they miss, it gets ugly; they gave up an average of 9 yards a play on the remaining 50 plays, which is ...well, you can figure out how effective that will be over a full game. (And if you can keep them out of the backfield, you can also figure out how effective that'll be.)
Man, they've got some names on this side of the ball. Bar'ee Boyd (yes, that apostrophe is in the right spot), the aforementioned Jackson, Eric Robinson-Berry (just me?), Prince Charles Iworah, and okay you know what there's nothing that's topping Prince Charles Iworah. You owe him tribute just for reading his name.
On special teams:
Hendrix Brakefield is a) a great name and b) a moderate field position weapon. Prepare accordingly. Beyond him, Andrews shows up again here and the rest of the unit kind of falls into the "well, they're decent" range.
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