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Opponent Breakdown: Western Kentucky Offense

Western Kentucky is looking to straighten things out after an inexplicable loss to Maine.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Western Kentucky had to feel pretty good about their team after the first quarter of their game against Maine last weekend. They were up 21-0 after having a solid game against a very good Wisconsin team the week before. Then the rest of the game happened. Maine went on to outscore WKU 31-7 through the last three quarters and the Toppers have more questions than answers headed into their second game against a power five school.

Drew Eckels won the starting quarterback job this season after sitting for four years waiting his turn. He is a tall quarterback that fits the mold of a pocket passer but he runs the ball just well enough that they incorporate some read option aspects to the offense. Eckels does a really good job reading the defense and he has enough speed to make a defense pay a little bit if they don’t account for him.

From a passing standpoint, Eckels has been very hot and cold. He was solid against a very good Wisconsin defense and had some plays where his receivers let him down. He also missed some guys down the field that could have led to scores. Against Maine, he was able to push the ball down the field more and he looked very good early in the game. He has the arm strength to throw it anywhere on the field and puts good touch on his deep ball. He can also throw pretty well on the run. The only real question with him is his consistency.

Eckels was injured on the last offensive play of the game for the Toppers and is listed as a game time decision for this weekend. If he can’t go, I would expect to see up to three different quarterbacks. Personally, I think they should go with true freshman Kevaris Thomas. He’s one of the highest rated recruits to ever sign with WKU and he’s the only other quarterback they have that had a FBS offer coming out of high school. At 0-2, they don’t have much to lose and they might as well get him legit game experience for the future.

The Toppers probably needed to figure out their running back situation against Maine last week but they still don’t seem to know who they want to be the top guy or even the top two guys. DeAndre Firby is a veteran big back who leads the running backs with 4.67 yards per carry. Marquez Trigg is listed as the other “or” starter but he only has 10 yards on his 8 carries. That’s obviously not what they need to balance out the offense, so the search still continues.

If I were in Mike Sanford’s shoes, I would keep trying to find a way to get Garland LaFrance the football. He has the most carries with 9 in two games but he also has 7 catches on the season. LaFrance is a true freshman that had offers from Texas Tech, TCU, Colorado State and Troy. It’s easy to see why all of those offenses wanted him because he is a burner. He caught a 75 yard touchdown pass off of a swing pass against Maine. He can really get moving when he gets in to space and all of these offenses work to get that done for their fastest players.

Lucky Jackson is also a guy in this offense that has really good speed. He’s the Toppers top receiver and had two long touchdowns last week. Jackson is used at different spots but he has looked best in the slot to me. His first touchdown last week was on a wheel route while the second was on a deep cross from the inside spot in trips formation. They like to get him matched up on slower guys and that will likely continue against Louisville.

The rest of the receiver group is rounded out by Quin Jernighan, Jacquez Sloan, and Xavier Lane. Each has something different to bring to the offense with Lane being the big outside reciever, Jernighan being an all around threat, and Sloan being the quickest in the group as well as the guy that is used in different ways in the offense. Lane is a guy that caught my eye as an option down the sideline against a group of corners for UofL that have yet to prove themselves. Sloan is the other guy to keep an eye on . Sanford has a very creative offense and a guy like Sloan could be used on a trick play or two.

The offensive line for the Toppers played very well against Wisconsin but was the biggest weak point for the offense against Maine. How that happens is beyond me but the numbers and the video don’t lie. Maine was able to get to Eckels six times and forced a fumble that they returned for a touchdown. They also held shut down the WKU running game which you just don’t typically see from an FCS team. This offensive line doesn’t have great size but it fits what they want to do with stretch runs and screen throws. They can get out and block in space and they might see some success with that against an aggressive Louisville defense. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see them try to help the line by working in a good amount of short passes to the running backs and their very talented tight end, Mik’Quan Deane.