How Arkansas and Western Kentucky compare at each position

By: Tom Murphy
Published: Saturday, November 9, 2019
Western Kentucky receiver Jahcour Pearson lines up against Louisville in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mike Strasinger)
Western Kentucky receiver Jahcour Pearson lines up against Louisville in the second half of an NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 14, 2019, in Nashville, Tenn. (AP Photo/Mike Strasinger)

OFFENSE

Quarterbacks

Welcome home Ty Storey (141-202-5, 1,477 yards, 7 TD), the Charleston High product and four-year Razorback. Storey is 9th in the FBS with 69.8% completions and 63rd with 137.7 efficiency. His 211 passing yards per game are 61st. Storey has 99 rushing yards, 2nd on the team, 4 TD and averages 1.4 yards per carry.

John Stephen Jones (10-16-0, 74 yards, 2 TD) has a 142.6 efficiency rating in very limited work the last two weeks. KJ Jefferson (1-2-0, 32 yards) has a 184.4 rating in even less action. How will the two freshmen perform as the top two options? Ben Hicks (64-132-2, 736, 2) and Nick Starkel (93-169-10, 1,118, 7) are in reserve. The Hogs have to make the QB run a viable, dangerous option.

ADVANTAGE Western Kentucky

Running backs

The Hilltoppers’ top back is Gaej Walker (169 carries, 783 yards, 6 TD), a 6-1, 195-pound junior. Walker, who averages 4.6 yards per carry, has 57% of his team’s carries. Storey, with 112 lost yards and 99 net, has 24 percent. No one else has more than 15 carries. KeShawn McClendon (7-46) has gotten minimal playing time in the backfield.

Rakeem Boyd (142-820, 6), who has four 100-yard games, needs 180 yards to reach 1,000. The Hilltoppers have a strong run defense (125.8). Devwah Whaley (59-254, 3) did not get many touches last week after a solid showing at Alabama. Boyd’s at 5.8 ypc, Whaley 4.3. Both could factor in the pass game. Treylon Burks (8-28), TJ Hammonds (2-10), and A’Montae Spivey (3-14) factor in.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Receiver/tight ends

The Hilltoppers have a diverse collection of pass catchers, starting with 6-1 Lucky Jackson (55 catches, 766 yards, 2 TD) and 5-9 speedster Jahcour Pearson (51-512, 4), one of only 3 FBS duos with 50-plus catches. Jacques Sloan (31-271, 1) averages 8.7 ypc, while Quin Jernighan (22-203) is at 9.2. Top TEs are Joshua Simon (16-214, 4) and Kyle Fourtenberry (9-108, 1).

Can Arkansas consistently get the ball to top playmakers Trey Knox (27-366, 2), Mike Woods (26-334, 3), Treylon Burks (20-330) and Tyson Morris (13-155, 1) with its freshmen quarterbacks taking most or all the snaps? Keeping the WKU safeties back will be a key for balance. The loss of leading receiver TE Cheyenne O’Grady (33-372, 3) is a big blow. Grayson Gunter (4-39) now starts.

ADVANTAGE Western Kentucky

Offensive line

Western Kentucky’s starting lineup has all redshirted, with senior RT Miles Pate and junior Tyler Witt having 27 starts apiece. Junior C Seth Joest and junior RG Jordan Meredith have made 21 starts, while sophomore LT Cole Spencer has made 15 starts. The group averages 6-3, 300, slightly larger than the Hogs. Joest, Meredith and Witt have started all 9 games, Pate 8, Spencer 7.

Yet another likely change to Arkansas’ starting lineup, where senior LG Austin Capps is expected back after two weeks of concussion issues. He should join LT Myron Cunningham, C Ty Clary, RG Ricky Stromberg and RT Dalton Wagner. All but Capps should be back next season. The Razorbacks have their work cut out against a quality front seven that has played the run very well.

ADVANTAGE Western Kentucky

DEFENSE

Line

The Hilltoppers operate from a 4-3 front, with leading tackler DE DeAngelo Malone (72 tackles, 17 TFL, 9 sacks, 13 hurries), senior DT Jaylon George (24, 3.5 TFL, 2 hurries, 1 FF) and sophomore DE Juwuan Jones (42, 8, 4.5 sacks, 7 hurries) starting all 9 games. Junior DT Jalen Madden (21, 1.5, 1, 2) has started the last 3 games where junior Jeremy Darvin (19, 3.5, 2) started the first 6.

McTelvin Agim (34, 8.5 TFL, 5 sacks, 3 hurries, 1 FR, 1 FF) has a TFL in 5 straight. TJ Smith (15, 4, 2.5), Isaiah Nichols (16) and Jonathan Marshall (12, 2 TFL, 1 FF) are the other DTs. The Hogs need more pressure and batted passes from DEs Gabe Richardson (29, 5.5, 2.5, 1 PBU, 1 FF), Mataio Soli (16, 1.5 TFL, 2 hurries), Jamario Bell (10, 4.5, 3.5), Collin Clay (13) and Zach Williams (12).

ADVANTAGE Western Kentucky

Linebacker

Junior Kyle Bailey (70, 4.5 TFL, 2 INT, 6 hurries), the team INT leader, is one of few non-redshirts among WKU’s top players. The unit lacked experience to open the season, with the corps full of mostly first-year contributors. Clay Davis (27, 1 TFL), Damen Lowe (14, 1 PBU), Malik Staples (13), Jaden Hunter (8) and Demetrius Cain (5) have all gotten playing time.

De’Jon Harris (75, 3.5 TFL, 2 PBU, 2 hurry, 2 FR, 1 FF) has to average 9 tackles to reach 100 again. Bumper Pool (67, 5 TFL, 3 PBU, 1 hurry) has started all 9 games with Harris but was targeted in the run game last week. Hayden Henry (30, 2.5, 1, 2 PBU) has gotten plenty of action. Grant Morgan (29, 3, 1) is coming off a thumb injury. Andrew Parker (4) has played more lately.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Secondary

The Hilltoppers are not deep with defensive backs. CBs Trae Meadows (26, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 3 PBU) and Dionte’ Ruffin (22, 1 TFL, 5 PBU) are juniors, and Beanie Bishop (11) is a freshman. Safeties Devon Key (61, 2.5, 6 PBU, 1 FR) and Antwon Kincade (61, 3, 4 PBU) are active. Top Nickel Ta’Corian Darden (37, 3.5, 4, 1 hurry) is a nominee for the Burlsworth Trophy.

Tackling was an issue for this group last week. Kam Curl (64, 2 sacks, 2 INT, 1 FR, 1 PBU) and Joe Foucha (65, 1 TFL, 1 INT, 4 PBU, 1 hurry) have played a ton of reps, spelled by Myles Mason (16, 1 TFL). Top CBs are Montaric Brown (28, 3 PBU, 1 INT), Jarques McClellion (23, 4 PBU, 1 INT), LaDarrius Bishop (13, 1 FR), with Greg Brooks (19, 2 PBU) and Micahh Smith (13, 1 PBU) at nickel.

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Special teams

Punter John Haggerty has a 46.2-yard average, 9th in the FBS if he qualified, making him the 4th top 10 punter the Hogs have faced. The ‘Toppers are 30th in net punting (40.16). Freshman Cory Munson (12-19 FG, 23-24 PAT) replaced 3-year starter Alex Rinella this year. Munson has 27 touchbacks on 42 kickoffs. WKU has used many players at KOR, PR, led by freshman Dayton Wade.

Treylon Burks was a tackle-breaking kickoff return man with 5 returns for 134 yards last week, and he’ll stay in that role (with De’Vion Warren out this week with an ankle injury) along with returning punts. PK Connor Limpert (12-15 FG, 24-24 PAT) is one of 20 Groza Award semifinalists. He has 23 touchbacks on 44 kickoffs. Arkansas is 89th in net punting (37.1) and Sam Loy is 83rd (39.6).

ADVANTAGE Arkansas

Intangibles

Western Kentucky quarterback Ty Storey will play with added incentive as an ex-Razorback, which would help as long as he doesn’t get over-hyped. The Hilltoppers know they’re facing a vulnerable team with a restless fan base that could turn into a non-factor if the visitors jump out to an early lead. They figure they can do what 3-touchdown underdog San Jose State has done before them.

An 11 a.m. kickoff for a struggling team on the opening day of the modern gun deer hunt equals what kind of crowd? The prospect of seeing young quarterbacks John Stephen Jones and KJ Jefferson is a plus, as is senior day and projected great weather. The coaching staff must be feeling the pressure of needing to put forth a winning plan after 7 weeks without experiencing a victory.

ADVANTAGE Even

Discussion

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