NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) -- The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers finally
have gotten the mighty Kentucky Wildcats of the Southeastern
Conference to come play a game on their home turf.
Turns out that home-field advantage is just a short drive away
in Nashville. The Hilltoppers played in Lexington in 2008 and 2010.
Now they open this season Thursday night against Kentucky at LP Field, home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans, as part of a four-game contract. Western Kentucky has charter buses bringing fans down from Bowling Green.
Coach Willie Taggart is expecting the Hilltoppers to color the
"It is big time for our university, our community, our football guys and the whole Hilltopper nation that we go down there and put on a good showing," Taggart said. "We know Kentucky is going to travel well, and they always do, and we have to show that we can do that, too ... Come out and take pride in your university and lift our team to the kind of effort that we are going to need. We can't do it by ourselves, and that is why we picked this place."
Kentucky comes in having easily won the first two games in this series, including 63-28 last season. But coach Joker Phillips goes
into his second season having to replace the heart of his offense
with receiver Randall Cobb now with the NFL's Green Bay Packers and quarterback Mike Hartline gone along with running back Derrick
Locke and receiver Chris Matthews.
"We haven't changed much offensively," Phillips said. "We'll look the same. I think this guy that we have pulling the trigger can stretch the field. I'm really excited to watch him play. I mean, I'm not trying to say things too fast, but some days you don't recognize him from the bowl game, you know. He's that type of guy that has that type of command of the huddle, command of the ball. I'm just excited to watch him play."
That would be Morgan Newton who was limited by a knee injury last season. He has four starters back in front of him on the offensive line, but the junior quarterback's challenge will be trying to try to carry on an offense that averaged 31.2 points and 427.8 total yards in 2010 in going 6-7 and reaching a bowl game.
"This time last year I was coming out of competing for a starting job and not being able to play," Newton said. "It was tough to have to step back, but I learned a lot last year. This time, we pretty much knew for the most part that I was going to be back there. I'm anxious. I'm ready to get out there and play. But you can't be too anxious or you won't play good."
Western Kentucky heads into its fourth season since moving up to
the Football Bowl Subdivision having lost 15 consecutive home games and with only four wins in that time. These Hilltoppers come in
with running Bobby Rainey, the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player
of the Year in 2010 who ranked third in nation last year averaging
137.4 yards rushing per game.
Kawaun Jakes is back at quarterback, but the Wildcats will be focusing on stopping Rainey, who ran for 184 yards against them
"When people are able to line up and run the ball on you, it's a slap in the face," Phillips said. "Last year was a slap in the face the way they ran the ball on us."