Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. Today, we spoke with Western Kentucky beat writer Chad Bishop of the Bowling Green Daily News.
To start things off, give us a brief tutorial on the Hilltoppers. What's their style of play? What are their strengths and weaknesses, as you see it?
Chad Bishop: The Hilltoppers want to play a physical style both offensively and defensively. Willie Taggart's offense is predicated on time of possession, the running game, play action and using multiple tight ends. Defensive coordinator Lance Guidry implements a 4-3 defense that will allow itself to bend, but not break. The team's weaknesses are still depth on both sides of the ball and a woeful place-kicking game. The Tops are also still just three years into FBS football.
How have the Hilltoppers looked this spring? Do you expect any changes from last year's team that finished 7-5 overall?
C.B.: Western Kentucky's spring was called its best in years by both players and coaches. One senior said the team was the most-conditioned he's been around since arriving at WKU. The biggest change for the Tops is the loss of record-setting running back Bobby Rainey, a player used as an offensive crutch for the past two seasons. Expectations remain the same, but WKU may have to rely more on the passing game in 2012.
Who is one player you think Alabama fans should watch out for?
C.B.: Andrew Jackson. The junior middle linebacker made a bit of noise during the opening week in 2011 when he told ESPNU cameras during the Tops' game against Kentucky that the Wildcats were, "S'posed to be SEC!" Jackson is fearless and reckless, but also very good. He led the team in tackles last season and this spring admitted he's now trying to become the quarterback of a defense that has high aspirations.
Western Kentucky is no stranger to high profile opponents like Alabama. What do you think their mindset is when they travel to places like Tuscaloosa for a game?
C.B.: The Hilltoppers, frankly, won't be phased by Bryant-Denny Stadium. Western Kentucky has been to LSU, Kentucky, Nebraska and Tennessee in the last three seasons and trailed LSU 21-9 last year late in the third quarter. Coach Willie Taggart will not allow his team to be overwhelmed by the hostile environment.
What has to happen for this to be a close game late?
C.B.: Western Kentucky doesn't win too many games by blowout, so keeping things close with Alabama will be no different than a normal game plan. The Hilltoppers will try and control the clock on offense and hope for Alabama to make a mistake in its own territory. Of course, the Tops have not beaten an FBS program that doesn't reside in the Sun Belt since moving to the Football Bowl Subdivision, so that game plan is easier said than executed.