Bowl projections: Week 9

A weekly look at where Western Kentucky is projected to play in a bowl game. The Hilltoppers are currently 2-4.

ESPN: none

CBS Sports: none

USA Today: none

Sporting News: none

Bleacher Report: not updated this week

SB Nation: vs. Fresno State, Hawaii Bowl

Phil Steele: none

Scout: none

NFL.com: vs. Toledo, Bahamas Bowl

Athlon Sports: none

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WKU practice report 10.21.14

Spoke with WKU wide receivers coach Jamarcus Shephard and junior wide receiver Jared Dangerfield on Tuesday about adjusting to opposing defenses who use press man coverage.

Jamarcus Shephard
    Adjusting to press coverage: “I think the No. 1 thing is physicality. You gotta constantly be physical. If the defensive back is being physical with you, you have have to be physical with them. It’s all the about who gets the hand on the guy first.
“When you’re boxing and you’re fighting, if you get the first punch, usually the other guy’s gonna go down. If we can get the first punch on these guys, then we should be alright in that area.”

    Does it come down to route running? “Not necessarily. I think there’s a few different techniques that you can use to get open, but ultimately, again, it’s about being physical and beating ‘em to the punch. In your stances you gotta get your hands up and be ready for a fight. That’s something that I’m always preaching to these guys, ‘You gotta be ready for a fight.’ Even in off coverage, you gotta be ready for a fight, because when you get up on the guy, he’s gonna be wanting to grab you. If you’re faster than the guy, stronger than the guy, he’s gonna wanna grab you, so you gotta be physical right back with them.”

    WKU wide receivers so far: “I think, really, when you look at it, some of the blocking that we’ve seen on film has been awesome. I’ll be honest with you. That’s the best way to describe it. I was really impressed with some of the blocks that Willie McNeal had in this last game, Antwane Grant as well, some of that blocking downfield, especially on the perimeter screens and whatnot. They’ve done a really great job with that.
“Obviously we’ve been very successful and probably a little more successful than we’ve been in the past as far as catching the ball. And getting yards after the catch. I think we have something like 900 yards after the catch. I think that’s a big deal.
“I think those guys are taking pride in finishing. If you ever come out to our practices, I’m constantly yelling, ‘Finish, finish finish!’ That’s important, and obviously, it’s showing on the field.”

    Are the WRs all-around players? “Absolutely. I’m not gonna sit here and act like their aren’t plays that we need to make. There’s some plays out there that we need to make. But all around, blocking, knowing what we’re supposed to do, catching the ball, yards after the catch – I think we’re accomplishing that right now.
“I think we’ve accomplished that to an extent. Ultimately when we’re looking at it as a receiving corps, we gotta win the game. We feel like we should be the group that wins the game for the team. In these last five games, we’ve lost four of ‘em, and we haven’t won the game for the team, so we gotta do that.”

    Going 1-4 in last five: “When I talked to ‘em on Sunday, when they came in, I sorta challenged ‘em a little bit and said, ‘Whatta we stand for, as a receiving corps?’ And I sort of challenged the football team, to an extent. But what do we stand for as a group? The No. 1 thing they said was, ‘Brotherhood. We are a band of brothers.’ That’s a good thing. That’s a great thing. You want that from those guys and I think on the field it’s showing, obviously in the blocking in what they’re doing for one another to make sure each person is successful.”

Jared Dangerfield
    Getting off press coverage: “Just being physical, good footwork and good use of the hands at the line of scrimmage. That’s pretty much how we’re gonna have better success.”

    Adjusting to press coverage: “I usually put my hands up. If they play off I put my hands down. But I have my hands ready, if they press, ready again to fight at the line of scrimmage.”

    Working with Doughty against different coverages: “We have good communication with press coverage, especially for back-shoulder throws and vertical passing. You have to read the coverages before the snap.”

    Did the receivers see this success coming? “Yeah, I saw this coming, because I came in hungry, coming in from junior college. So I kinda seen it coming.”

    WR depth: “We’re deep. We’re real deep. We got a good rotation. I feel when I’m off the field, the person that’s in is gonna handle his business.”

    Being a brotherhood: “We all got each other’s back. Yeah, that’s what I’m saying, when I’m off the field, I know the person’s gonna handle his business and the person next to me, when I’m in, he’s gonna handle his business. We’re a band of brothers.”

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Bobby Wilder talks ODU football, Saturday’s game against WKU

Old Dominion coach Bobby Wilder talked to me this week about his Monarchs and their game at Western Kentucky on Saturday.

Bobby Wilder
   Bye week: “Honestly, we really needed this week, just to get a lot of guys healed up. We had about 20 guys on the injury report. Not unexpected with the fact that we had four weeks of preseason, and then seven weeks straight where we played a game, so we’ve been going at it for 11 weeks.
“We really used the week to really try and get guys healed up. We lifted weights during the week, we had a team run one day, but we did not put pads on and practice football. As much as I would’ve liked to – we need practice also – but I just felt like the No. 1 priority was to get some guys healed up – which we did.”

    The state of the ODU program: “We’ve still got a ways to go. This is going to be a process. Obviously, I was hoping we’d continue to win at the pace we had since we started, but we’re playing much better competition, much better teams. Non-league wise we’re playing a team from the ACC this year, we’re playing a team from the SEC next week, not to mention all the teams in Conference USA which, no matter how anybody looks at Conference USA nationally, I look at it as a major challenge for our program.
“I think all the programs are more-established than we are. They’ve all had their 85 scholarship players. We’ve added 80 players to our roster in the last 18 months. We’re transitioning. I think we’re one of the 10 youngest teams in the country with our depth chart – that’s not an excuse, I’m not telling you that’s why we’re 3-4. We’re 3-4 because we’re getting beat by some better programs right now.
“We’re trying our best to grow up really fast.”

 ODU quarterback Taylor Heinicke: “We’re very fortunate that we were able to recruit Taylor and that he’s been the type of player that he has. Our offense is built around him and what he does well. I think he’s a very good decision maker with the ball.
“When you look at his overall touchdowns to interceptions he’s always been very good with the football and does a nice job making good decisions.”

Concerns with the current team: “It’s the overall size, strength and team speed of the opponents that we’re playing. We’re not quite there yet. We’re a lot closer than I thought we were gonna be, but teams have had the ability to wear us down a little bit in some of our games that we’ve played, particularly like Marshall.
“Marshall’s in a different category right now than everybody else. I think Western Kentucky is the closest team to them offensively, but in terms of a complete football team, Marshall sets the standard. The Rice team we played, that we were fortunate to beat, I think they’re getting back healthy now, so they’re getting on a roll, which probably everybody expected. Middle Tennessee is obviously a good team. They have the ability to score a lot of points.
“But it’s primarily the size, strength and speed that we’re just not the same as everybody else in all three phases yet.”

    Western Kentucky: “I think their offense is in the same class as Marshall. There isn’t a team yet that they’ve played that’s been able to hold them – I think Illinois held them to 400 yards and 34 points, which is the best anybody’s done to this point.
“Obviously, the quarterback, he makes it go. They’ve got dynamic playmakers all over the field. The fact that they’re throwing the ball for the yards they are and they’re still able to rush the ball for 130 yards a game, that’s impressive. The receivers are as good as anybody we’ve seen this year. I think the tight end is very underrated. I don’t think he gets the notoriety he should probably get, but his ability, not only to catch the ball, but his ability to block on the perimeter, that gives them an added dimension.
“Defensively, I know right now they’re struggling a little bit, like we are. But you see it spurts, you see it in games and spurts, they’re really good defensively – particularly when they can get to the quarterback. When they can generate a pass rush and get to the quarterback, they’ve shown they can play a solid defense.”

    Saturday’s keys: “We’re gonna have to hang with ‘em. One of the big things for us is where gonna have to try and get to the second half and have it be a ballgame. I look at their scores, and statistically, they’ve beaten everybody in the first half. If they play the second half like they play the first half, they’re a 6-0 football team.
“There’s nobody that they haven’t jumped out on, got a lead, including at Illinois when they were up 17-7. We’re gonna have to try hang with ‘em and have it be a ballgame in the fourth quarter with an opportunity to win.”

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Mondays with Jeff: ODU week

Western Kentucky hosts Old Dominion on Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Comments today from coach Jeff Brohm, wide receiver Willie McNeal and cornerback Wonderful Terry about that and more.

Jeff Brohm
“Well we are glad to get back at it this week and have another game at home this Saturday. It definitely was a tough pill to swallow this past weekend but it is what it is. We understand the situation. We haven’t been able to correct a few of the issues, but we have got to fight through it. We have another opportunity this week against a good football team at home in front of our fans and we are looking forward to getting out there.”

 On message to players
“The message right now is it is what it is. You’re midway through the season and you’re 2-4. Is that where you want to be at? No. But trust me, we’ve been in tougher situations in our life and there’s going to be tough times that come up. The bottom line is you have to fight through it. It’s college football. There’s a lot of good football teams. You’re going to win some, you’re going to lose some. We’ve got to find a way to win.

“I’d be more upset if I sat up here and we were getting crushed every week. I think that we are right in the thick of it. We’re a competitive football team. We haven’t been good enough to win close football games. We’ve got to get better. We know that. We’re definitely working on it but we have to learn on the job. We’ve got to perform better on game day, especially in the second half, if we want to get over the hump.”

On how players will respond
“I think they’ll respond well. We’ve actually practiced very well. We practice hard. We’ve made strides in practice and I think our guys want to get it done. Right now, in the second half, we haven’t played well. It’s not because we didn’t know that we needed to. We’ve talked about things. We’ve made adjustments. We’ve talked about issues that have come up in the past, but right now we are getting beat in the second half on both sides of the ball. We’ve got to perform better. We have to do things to help each other out. The offense may have to run the ball a little more and control the clock and the defense definitely has to get off the field on third downs. All things that can be corrected, but you have to correct them and find ways to do it. Each side has to help each other out and we’ve got to find a way to win as a team.

“We know at this point, even more so than before, it doesn’t matter who we play. It’s going down to the wire. We’ve got to find a way to play better for 60 minutes and play better the entire game.”

On goals changing as season progresses
“We don’t talk about our goals a whole lot. I think that we knew going in that defensively we were going to be a little young and we know from a team standpoint that we lost some elite players on a good football team last year to the NFL. We haven’t had guys step up to that place yet and I think we are still a ways off to getting to that point. We’ve got to improve. We’ve got to fight through it.

“We’ve gotta continue to try other guys if we are not getting the effort we want on a consistent basis. The hungriest players that want to contribute are the ones that are going to play. I think our guys will practice hard. I think that they enjoy playing the game and they realize it’s going to be a battle every week. I think we’ll respond and give it a good fight this weekend as well.”

Team complacent?
“If it just happened once or twice, I would maybe say that, but it’s happened four times. I think our guys understand what we have to do. It was definitely addressed for two straight weeks and talked about at halftime, then we out, the other team played better and we didn’t get it done.

“I don’t think it’s complacency, but I do think there’s certain situations we gotta get better at. We need to get off the field on third down. We need to get off the field on fourth down. They were able to convert a ton of those and it keeps the momentum going for them, they maintain possession of the ball. On offense we didn’t get many snaps and when we did we didn’t take advantage. So little things. We have to play better and we have to find a way to do it for an entire 60 minutes.”

Team leadership
“I think we’re continuing to find leaders on defense really. I think that we’ve got some seniors on defense that do the best job they can in leading, but in all honestly, they haven’t played a whole lot in their career. This is really the first year that a couple of those leaders are playing. They wanna win.

“I think Cam Thomas has been a good leader. He got hurt in the second half a little bit and went down and it hurt us when he went out of the game. He’s definitely played well for us. He’s probably our top leader on defense. We had a long talk (Sunday). He wants to do well, he wants to find ways to help the defense out.

“I saw us lose our mojo a little bit in the second half on defense. I didn’t think we played with the all-out bounce in the step that we could’ve. I think we got tired a little bit. We’re gonna have to keep guys a little bit fresh. Some of our most-experienced guys, our guys that have played the most, got a little tired in the second half and they weren’t able to play all out like they should’ve, so we gotta address that.

“Offensively, we just didn’t make the plays we made in the first half. The first half, we did. Took our shots, made the play. Second half we threw a couple posts down the field, had a chance to make the play, didn’t make the catch – and they were contested, no question. So we’ve got to find as much balance as we can to control the ball, to take some pressure off the defense if we need to. It’s going to have to be all of us coming together and finding a way to do better and to win.”

Second half offense
“I think we had four possessions in the second half. The first one, we wanted to come out, we dropped the first pass, we had a penalty, now it’s third-and-long, we weren’t able to convert. Then after that, they definitely pressed us up a little bit more. They played tighter man coverage, we weren’t able to get as much separation, we weren’t able to make as many plays that we’d like to.

“Little things that hurt us early in the season. The defense did adjust a little bit and they got us. We were limited in the opportunities. But I think we’ve gotta run the football better, we’ve gotta control the clock a little more. I think if we put too much pressure on the passing game to always perform at a high level, that’s not gonna happen. We’ve gotta find ways to distribute the ball, run the ball, not put as much pressure on our quarterback and find different ways to move the football.”

On quarterback Brandon Doughty, who was hit hard on WKU’s last possession at FAU
“He’s doing well. He just got the air knocked out of him. He actually had a guy open and was trying to do a little too much, which I don’t blame him, it’s the end of the game. He was trying to make a bigger play and really that’s not his game. He just got the air knocked out of him. He’ll bounce back and he’ll play well.”

Relying too much on Doughty
“We could do that. Obviously, I think we’ve performed well throwing the ball, but I don’t think that’s something we need to do. I think we need to take a little bit of pressure of him. I think we need utilize Leon Allen and Ace Wales and those guys and find ways to run the ball to get the ball in their hands.

“If you ask a quarterback who’s really a pocket quarterback to just do everything, that’s hard to do. Plays are going to break down, he’s going to have to make a few plays with his feet. I think he did do that one time on a key third down. There’s probably a few other times he could’ve, but I think he was trying to make the play in the passing game too much.

“You don’t wanna put too much pressure on guys. You want ‘em to do their thing, perform at a high level by you taking care of them, putting ‘em in good position. Obviously they’ll be some games where we might have to throw it a whole lot, but I do think that we need to get better at running the ball and find ways to move the chains, other than just throwing it and threw the air.”

Offensive struggles leading to defensive struggles
“It was not a good second half. They didn’t punt the ball. They scored every time they touched it and they had long drives and they controlled it. On offense, the few opportunities we had, we didn’t convert. A combination of those things and they definitely won the game by playing well in the second half and we didn’t.

“It’s a disappointing and you’d like to say, ‘This is the problem and this is the problem,’ I think we kind of know what the problem is and we’re trying to correct it and get better at it, but it’s going to be a process. It’s going to be a step-by-step process that we have to continue to find ways to do. But without question we have to play better in the second half. It’s good that we’ve played well in the second half. But if you can’t do it the entire game, it’s not gonna work.

“I think we’ve just gotta do the little things, like get some stops when we need ‘em. Tighten up the coverage a little bit here and there when we need it. We gotta find ways to not give ‘em the easy, uncovered throws, which we haven’t done. They got too many of those in the second half and they did that at UAB as well. So we’ve gotta do some little things like that. Our players gotta play faster as well at times, get lined up, and little things that need to continue to be corrected. A few of ‘em repeated itself. We’ve all gotta look in the mirror and get better and each of our guys will do that, each of our coaches will do that. Is it frustrating? Yes, but like I said before, half the teams are gonna lose, half the teams are gonna win and we’ve gotta find a way to win more than half. We definitely have to battle and fight through what we’re going through now.”

Wonderful Terry and Willie McNeal

On keeping the young players’ heads up with six games left
McNeal: “You just have to stay positive, motivated and stay hungry. You can’t give up now. You have a whole half of a season left. With four losses we can go eight and four. So you just have to stay positive and stay hungry.”

On sense of complacency coming out in the second half
McNeal: “I really wouldn’t say that as much. You just have to finish. Teams adjust to things we do we just have to finish.”

On adjustments the defense has to make
Terry: “I wouldn’t say that we’re not making adjustments and they are not working. You just have to go out and execute the adjustments that we are making. We have to do the little things. The little things are going to win the game for us.”

On losing the mojo in second half of games
McNeal: “I would say staying in the game. We have a young team. We have to keep the sideline up with the young guys, make sure the guys are in the game. When the defense is on the field, offense is on the sideline cheering the guys up just to keep everybody up awake during the game.”

On four of the next six games at home
McNeal: “You just have to play football at the end of the day. Home or away you just have to play football.”

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Postgame reaction: FAU

Western Kentucky lost 45-38 at Florida Atlantic on Saturday. Reaction below.

WKU coach Jeff Brohm
  Not finishing again: “We’ve worked on it, we’ve talked about it – seems like it keeps repeating itself. They score a lot of points in the second half, we aren’t able to run the ball, they played us more man coverage, we weren’t able to get separation and make plays and before you know it the lead dissolves away and then the game’s over. Definitely disappointing.”

    Where do you go from here? We’ve got to go back and study it some more. When you came out in the first half and you play like that and you got a big lead, you should be able to maintain it and win the game. Not having the ability to that, whether it’s offense not playing well in the second half, defense, obviously, not playing well – we’ve gotta get things fixed.
“We’ve got our work cut out for us, without question. It’s a good conference game, every game – we say it every week, but every game’s gonna be like this, but we’re not finding a way to win the close ones and that’s what we have to do.”

    FAU adjustments: “Well I know on defense they played more man coverage. They pressed us up and were weren’t able to run the ball very good and we didn’t get as much separation and didn’t block as well and didn’t pitch-and-catch as well.
“Then, of course, defensively, gave up way too many big plays and let ‘em move it up and down the field.”

    FAU running game with QB Jaquez Johnson: “Their quarterback’s a good player, he’s a big, physical guy, he can throw it when he wants, but the toughest thing to defend is when he runs it. The zone-read stuff and the little tempo stuff when they throw it out on the perimeter – they got us.
“He’s definitely a big, strong guy and they took over in the second half and they beat us.”

    Second half: “It wasn’t a comfortable lead for us, because we’ve had it a lot – all season long. This feeling we’ve had before. Not the first time it’s happened.
“We’ve got to become a better football team. Right now we’re not very good because we can’t play a full game. We’ve gotta continue to analyze it and see how we can fix the problem.
“They played better than us in the second half and they won the football game.”

WKU defensive end Gavin Rocker
    Locker room: “It’s a solemn mood. No one’s happy about it, obviously. No one’s accepting like, ‘Oh, this is just the road we take, like it’s OK.’ We are coming in here trying to find a solution. That’s our job every week, is to improve. We can’t just keep coming out and be a first half team. That’s unacceptable on both sides of the ball.”

    What to do now? “It just comes down to a mindset. Every week we gotta come out with the same intensity. Other teams, they’re coming out – they’re always the underdog in the second half. When you’re on top it’s easy to get comfortable. We gotta come out like we’re the underdogs every week in the second half. We can’t keep being a first-half team.”

    FAU adjustments: “I feel like they were pretty much doing the same things. Most games it’s execution – jumping offsides, stuff like that, killing ourselves really.”

WKU offensive lineman Forrest Lamp
    What to try now? “I don’t know. We gotta get back and talk to the whole team and have another player’s meeting and find out what it is. Me and Gavin have both voiced our opinions and that didn’t seem to work.
“We played better, we fixed the things that I thought were the problem and still lost the game. We just got to move on and have a team meeting when we get back and figure out what’s going on.”

 FAU adjustments: “I think pretty much doing the same thing. I think I heard coach Brohm say they started playing a little bit more man coverage. I don’t know if that messed things up or whatnot, but defensive line-wise and linebackers, they basically did the same things they had.”

    Postgame locker room: “Everybody’s pretty quiet after a loss. It’s tough. Especially one that close. Especially after every game we’ve lost has been by seven or three points. It’s tough.”

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Jeff Brohm’s final thoughts before FAU

Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm spoke after Thursday’s practice about facing Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

Jeff Brohm
 Has team bought into the theme of finishing? “Yeah I think they have. We’ve had two really good weeks of practice. I think they understand what it’s gonna take to win and we’ve practiced well.
“I think we’ve improved, our defense has improved the last two weeks, I think our offense has had two good weeks of practice and now we got to go perform on test day and that’s what it’s all about.”

    Do they understand the notion of not being able to afford any more losses? “Yeah they do, but at the same time, I just want ‘em playing hard and playing to win every game. It’s gonna be a long season, we’re going to have very tough opponents coming up, the conference schedule’s tough.
“To go on the road and win is tough, so we just gotta take it one game at a time. This is a big challenge for us. We gotta play well and improve every week and have a chance to win in the fourth quarter – and then find a way to do it.”

Gameplan for FAU: “Well the gameplan is, on defense. we’re going to try to do some things to give a few different looks, we’re gonna try to get off the field on third-and-long and we’re gonna try to rush the passer and eliminate the big plays.
“Offensively, we’ve got to run the football at times, and then still create big plays in the passing games. Be explosive, go at a good tempo, take care of the ball – which I’ve think we’ve done well at – but we’ve gotta find ways to get points and do it in bunches and to have fun doing it.”

    Bye week: “We prepared a lot on getting better individually – getting better as coaches, getting better as players, getting better as a unit and then as a team. The whole first week of the bye week is spent on that.
“We increased the competition. We wanted to see the competitive edge come out of all the players, see which guys stepped up, then we moved on to FAU. But I think that’s the most important thing for us, is competing against ourselves, getting better, doing the small things that it’s gonna take to win – then you gotta perform on test day, and that’s coming up on Saturday.”

    Importance of Saturday: “It’s important just like all of them. Going on the road to their place where they’ve had some success is going to be a challenging game. That’s conference play. We gotta find a way to win. I’m sure it’ll go down to the fourth quarter again, but this one, we gotta find a way to get out on top.”

 Defense: “I think our defense has practiced extremely well. I think they’ve had two good weeks of practice. I think they understand what they need to do, and now they gotta go do it. I have full confidence in them, full confidence that they’ll come ready to play hard, and I think that Saturday will be the big test when you gotta prove it on the game field – but I think our guys are ready.”

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Wood Selig Appreciation Day

Oct. 25, 2014 will be declared “Wood Selig Appreciation Day” by Bowling Green mayor Bruce Wilkerson.

Selig, currently the athletic director at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., spent 11 years as athletic director at Western Kentucky. The Hilltoppers won 70 Sun Belt Conference championships from 2000-2010.

Selig helped oversee the football program’s transition from Division I-AA to Division I-A, and assisted in other projects of more than $100 million for construction and renovations to WKU athletic facilities.

The Western Kentucky football team hosts Old Dominion at 3 p.m. Oct. 25 and Selig will make his first trip to Houchens-Smith Stadium since leaving Bowling Green for ODU on July 1, 2010. Wilkerson worked with Western Kentucky athletic director Todd Stewart and other members of the WKU athletics staff to set aside a day to honor Selig.

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