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Countdown Q&A - Week 3, Western Kentucky

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NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to another edition of the ‘Countdown Q&A’ where I jump head first into the bucket of nonsense I call my brain and pull out the hard hitting questions that you, the dedicated fan not only need to know, but deserve to know.

This week the unfortunate soul is Mr. Ross Shircliffe from ‘The Towel Rack’ , a WKU fan site that does a great job of covering the Toppers from....well...top to bottom. I answered a few questions for them yesterday so what better way to return the favor than to allow me to poke, prod, and I’m pretty sure I violated at least one state law, but the end result is worth your time. Lets get it.

So after WKU comes out of the gate in Week 1 and lays an egg against FCS opponent Central Arkansas the Toppers respond last week with a conference victory over FIU (somebody guard TY Hilton!!). What changed from Week 1 to Week 2?

The pass defense was the number one thing that changed from week one to week two. WKU was actually cruising along (up 14) against Central Arkansas until the 4th quarter (21 unanswered points), when they gave up pass plays of 30, 80, 38 & 35 yards as the Purple Bears stormed back to spring the upset. A defensive backfield that was thought to be a strength of the team was torched for 404 yards passing and was the biggest reason for the meltdown against UCA. Against FIU the Tops totally redeemed themselves allowing only 66 yards passing on 5/18 passes by FIU. Granted a lot of that was due to an injury to FIU’s starting quarterback James Morgan but when you go from 404 to 66 yards, you definitely will notice the difference. WKU’s defense in general only allowed 217 yards against FIU and controlled the game despite not forcing a turnover.

The Toppers are looking at a young man named Steven Duncan (QB) to lead the offense this season. To me, he sounds like made up sitcom character from the 80’s who in the opening credits throws an interception and then looks to the camera shaking his head with a big grin. To further my theory Duncan has, in fact, tossed four interceptions and had a fumble last week against FIU. Is Duncan just making poor throws or taking way too may chances?

Duncan has been a lightning rod for division in the WKU fan base for two seasons now. Last year he was part of a rotating trio of quarterbacks (Along with Drew Eckles and Davis Shanley) and was equal parts talented and frustrating. He led WKU to their only three wins last season (Ball State, UTEP and Louisana Tech) and flashed lots of physical tools including a big arm. He’s also struggled with turnovers (now 11/11 career TD/INT ratio) including a memorable fumble against Marshall last season on the 10-yard line down by three. Duncan is still a little slow on reads and you can tell he’s not yet 100% comfortable in the new offense. I’d lean more towards poor throws than taking chances but he’s honestly had his fair share of both. After listening to Helton’s press conference on Monday, It appears the staff is going to ride it out with him in the near future (over Arkansas Grad Transfer Ty Storey) hoping that he develops into the player they think he can be. Should he reach that potential, WKU will have him next year as well when a veteran-laden roster is expected to compete for a CUSA championship.

It’s no secret that Louisville will look to punish WKU on the ground, but right now the Toppers are fielding a Top 25 rushing defense only allowing 85yds/g. Is that number due to a legit front seven, or were the prior opponents channeling their inner Jeff Brohm and just looking to air it out?

I’d say that WKU’s run-stopping prowess is a combination of the opponent and front seven talent level. When it comes to the front seven, WKU returned disruptive players like DeAngelo Malone (already 4.5 tackles for loss) and Juwaun Jones on the defensive line. At linebacker, they had to replace the entire unit due to grad transfer (Ben Holt to Purdue) and injuries (Eli Brown) and have used transfers (including UofL transfer Malik Staples) & converted safety (Kyle Bailey) to plug the holes with solid success. Looking at Central Arkansas, they were definitely more pass-oriented but I think a lot of that was due to WKU absolutely dominating the line of scrimmage (0.7 yards per carry on 29 attempts).

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Florida Atlantic Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

FIU was able to have more success on the ground (151 yards on 46 carries) but that was still only good for 3.3 yards per carry with the dual-threat Kaylan Wiggins running all over the place when James Morgan got hurt for FIU. UofL will be a big test to WKU’s early success against the run. With Hawkins and Hall along with the larger offensive line, the Tops will have to show they can go up against a bigger and more talented team and not wear down as the game goes on.

I’m sure you get it hit with questions about your mascot all the time, and frankly, I just wouldn’t be doing my job unless I also asked you a question about ‘Big Red’, so here it goes. In your personal opinion, why don’t more restaurants serve ‘Big Red’ on tap?

Not the same Big Red haha. I think the fact that it isn’t a Coca-Cola or Pepsi brand probably prevents it from branching out of regional status (apparently it’s really big in Texas). I personally prefer drinking Big Red after putting down some White Castle sliders.

Accordingly to my count, WKU has 30+ guys on their roster from the state of Kentucky and 13 coming straight out of the city of Louisville. I know you’re supposed to treat each game the same but do you think the local kids a have a bit more juice for this one?

I definitely can see the game mattering more to the local players. Most of the Kentucky players were overlooked by the Cards (as well as UK) and they use that as a chip on their shoulder. Louisville has been good to WKU over the past decade (Taywan Taylor, Ace Wales, Deon Yelder) and I've already seen some sharing how much the game means to them. I think that will matter at the beginning but will quickly wear off after the first hit is made. The game definitely matters to the students/WKU first alumni that are fighting for respect in the state of Kentucky pecking order.

The series record is 20-12 in favor of the Cardinals and Louisville is currently on a 10 game win streak. What does WKU need to do to get over that hump and leave with a ‘W’ in their pocket?

WKU should have broken that streak last year (the game turned on back to back sacks after WKU reached the one-yard line looking to go up 15), that win would have probably saved Sanford’s job (so it may be a blessing). In order to end the streak, WKU needs to finish drives on offense and force Jawon Pass to beat them in the air on defense. If both of those happen then it means that Steven Duncan is having a good game and that Lousiville’s running game has been contained. That will shorten the possession battle and help the Tops control the pace of the game. When trying to spring an upset, you’ve got to take control early and limit mistakes (look at Georgia State over Tennessee). If WKU does that on Saturday, I don’t see why this one can’t be close (it was last year), despite the fact that Louisville is greatly improved and now well-coached.

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Once again, a big thanks to Ross for his time and input. Go check out ‘The Towel Rack’ website and give them a follow on twitter for all your WKU news and info. You want full coverage of their football squad, you want pictures of ‘Big Red’ in compromising positions, you want minute by minute updates on the whereabouts of Rick Stansbury? ‘The Towel Rack’ is your go to spot.