University of Alabama

Western Kentucky brings potent passing attack to Alabama

Western Kentucky wide receiver Lucky Jackson (11) celebrates with a teammate after scoring a touchdown against Rice on Sept. 1 in Bowling Green, Ky. Western Kentucky won 46-14.
Western Kentucky wide receiver Lucky Jackson (11) celebrates with a teammate after scoring a touchdown against Rice on Sept. 1 in Bowling Green, Ky. Western Kentucky won 46-14. Associated Press

Alabama has two teams from Kentucky on its schedule this year, but only one of them made a bowl game last season.

That team will be coming to Bryant-Denny Stadium on Saturday.

Heading into today’s game against Western Kentucky, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has made it clear, he doesn’t want his team to take the Hilltoppers lightly.

“They’ve got really good skill guys,” Saban said during his Monday news conference. “These guys play with a lot of toughness and energy. They’ve got a lot of confidence. They score a lot of points on offense. They’ve got one of the most prolific passing attacks that we’re going to see and some very good players to implement it. And they play really tough, physical defensive football. This is a good team.”

WKU enters the matchup after recording a 46-14 blowout against Rice in Week 1. The game saw junior quarterback Mike White complete 25 of 31 passes for 517 yards and three touchdowns.

Production at the quarterback position is nothing new for WKU. Last year, Brandon Doughty led the nation with 5,055 yards and 48 touchdown passes. White, who sat out last season after transferring from South Florida, is the nation’s current leader in passing yards.

Much of that production stems from the wide array of options the Hilltoppers posses in the passing game. WKU returns its top two receivers from last season in seniors Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris. Last year, Taylor led the team with 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns on 86 receptions, while Norris reeled in 63 passes for 971 yards and six touchdowns.

Saban had high praise for Taylor during the SEC teleconference on Wednesday.

“The thing I respect of him most is his production and his competitive spirit in the way he goes about playing the game,” Saban said. “He does a really, really good job and I think he’s as good as any receiver that we’ll play against this year.”

Both Taylor and Norris entered the season on the preseason watch list for the Biletnikoff Award. Last week the duo combined for 312 yards and two touchdowns on 12 receptions.

“I definitely know they have players,” said Alabama sophomore defensive back Marlon Humphrey. “In order to throw for 500 yards, you got to have pretty good wide receivers. It will be a talented bunch of wide receivers that we will have to study up this week.”

While Alabama’s defense shut down Southern California last week, the Trojans were able to exploit the Crimson Tide at times. USC picked on first-year starter Anthony Averett early and connected on a 36-yard pass against the junior corner on the second play of its opening drive to set up a field goal.

Humphrey, who started as a redshirt freshman last season, said he expects Averett to fare better as the season progresses.

“When you start as a first-year corner out there, it’s definitely pretty scary,” Humphrey said. “It’s kind of how I was last year, you play a little timid. Now that he got his feet wet, he’s going to be ready to go.”

Alabama blew out WKU in the two teams’ previous meetings, beating the Hilltoppers 41-7 in 2008 before shutting them out 35-0 in 2012. However, this year’s WKU team is far from a pushover.

Last season, the Hilltoppers finished 12-2, winning the Conference USA title before beating South Florida in the Miami Beach Bowl. The SEC saw several upsets last week with Kentucky and Mississippi State losing to teams from non power-5 conferences.

With a highly anticipated game against Ole Miss next week, Saban warned his players that if they look ahead and fail to take the Hilltoppers seriously, they could suffer the same fate this Saturday.

So far, that message has sunk in.

“They have a lot of great players, they are coming off a great year last year,” said sophomore running back Damien Harris. “We’re going to have to prepare for them just as hard as we would prepare for anyone else and be ready to play.”

Tony Tsoukalas writes for the Anniston Star. You can write to him at ttsoukalas@annistonstar.com

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