WKU Hilltoppers Preview 2022: Previewing, predicting, and looking ahead to the season with what you need to know and keys to the season.
WKU Hilltoppers Preview
Head Coach: Tyson Helton, 23-16, 4th year at WKU
2021 Preview: Overall: 9-5, Conference: 7-1
Keys To The Season
Season Prediction, What Will Happen
WKU Top 10 Players | WKU Schedule
WKU Hilltoppers Preview 2022
You’ll have to forgive WKU for being a wee bit miffed.
UTSA won the Conference USA championship. It’s got a big school in the San Antonio market, and it’s going to the American Athletic Conference next year.
So is Charlotte, and it seemingly just entered Conference USA five minutes ago. So is Rice, and it has an enrollment of around 19 students. Florida Atlantic, North Texas, and UAB also got the call.
All WKU has done is go to seven bowl games in the last eight years, play in three Conference USA championship games during that span, and it brings an enrollment of well over 20,000 students along with one of the funkiest mascots in all of sports.
And it might just have the offense that’s good enough to send all those other schools out with their tails between their legs.
This might not be the No. 2 attack in the nation like it was last year, but the system is still in place, holes were filled, and this should once again be a very, very fun team that should make a lot of noise.
And now you made it mad.
WKU Hilltoppers Preview 2022: Offense
Well that worked. For years WKU struggled to put points on the board – it only came up with more than 24 points twice in 2020 and got more than 38 three times from 2017 through 2020. Last year the offense averaged 44 points and 535 yards per game – second in the nation in both categories.
It all worked because the program brought in the key parts of the great Houston Baptist attack, but offensive coordinator Zach Kittley is now working his magic at Texas Tech, and star quarterback Bailey Zappe is looking to stay employed as a New England Patriot.
The offense will try to keep everything going with Josh Crawford and Ben Arbuckle going from key assistants to co-offensive coordinators, and …
Jarret Doege is coming in to try to bomb for for a bazillion yards. The former West Virginia starter is going into his sixth season – he played for two years at Bowling Green – with close to 10,500 yards and 79 touchdowns on the resumé.
The loss of Zappe is big, but the passing game also lost the 150 catches, 1,902 yards, and 17 touchdowns from Jerreth Sterns – another Houston Baptist transfer who’s now with Tampa Bay. 87-catch, 14-touchdown playmaker Mitchell Tinsley is also gone, leaving for Penn State.
Michael Mathison made 56 catches at Akron last year and now should do a whole lot more, Daewood Davis averaged close to 18 yards per catch and eighth scores, and Malachi Corley is the leading returning receiver with 73 catches for 691 yards and seven scores.
Dalvin Smith is also back after making five touchdown catches as a freshman, and tight ends Joey Bejan and Joshua Simon will play big roles.
The running game was the least productive in Conference USA, but that’s because the passing attack was so amazing. The Hilltoppers, though, were okay when they did try to run, averaging over four yards per carry.
Leading rusher Noah Whittingham is in the transfer portal, so it’ll be up to the combination of Kye Robichaux and Jakairi Moses to try carrying the load when they get their chances.
The offensive line will be fine. There might be a few key losses, but getting Vinnie Murphy from South Carolina at guard helps, Rusty Staats is an all-star center, and Quantavious Leslie is one of the best guards in Conference USA.
WKU Hilltoppers Preview 2022: Defense
You have to grade the WKU defense on a curve. Teams had to throw, keep throwing, and take a lot of chances to try keeping up the pace, but the secondary could’ve been better and the run defense was lacking.
Some of the mainstay stars – like pass rusher DeAngelo Malone and leading tackler Antwon Kincade – will be missed. There are enough parts back to at least maintain the production, but …
There are positives. The secondary that helped load up on takeaways with 21 picks gets back AJ Brathwaite at safety coming off a 64-tackle season, and Kahlef Hallassie makes a whole lot of plays at corner. Coming in is Upton Stout from North Texas at one corner and Rome Weber is a veteran from Wyoming who’ll step in at safety.
There’s no instantly replacing Malone as a pass rusher up front, but Juwuan Jones is a veteran hybrid edge rusher at one end, DT Darius Shipp is one of the league’s better interior playmakers. There’s little size up front, but there’s enough experience up front to come up with a good rotation.
Will Ignont is a good-tackling linebacker on the inside, and Jaden Hunter is the leading returning tackler with 67 stops last season – he can play inside or out. Both can get behind the line.
WKU Hilltoppers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats NEXT
WKU Hilltoppers: Keys To The Season, Top Game, Top Transfer, Fun Stats
WKU Hilltoppers: Key To The 2022 Offense
Don’t neglect the running game.
If everything clicks and the passing game works like 2021, then fine. Go for it. Just average closer to five yards per carry instead of four – last year’s attack averaged 4.1 yards per try. To be fair, it was the first time the program averaged over four yards per pop since 2016.
The temptation will be to try keeping it all going considering the receiving corps is loaded and Jarret Doege should be a fine replacement for Bailey Zappe, but running the ball behind this line should work.
It took the entire season for the round attack to take over a game – that might be a stretch – but the Hilltoppers had their first 200-yard rushing game in the bowl win over Appalachian State. It’s okay to keep running.
WKU Hilltoppers: Key To The 2022 Defense
Third down stops – get more.
No one’s asking for this to be the Alabama defense, and it’s tough to get into any sort of a rhythm when the offense scores and moves so fast, but the D has to be able to catch its breath, get on the field, and then get off of it.
The pass rush was okay and the takeaways were there – WKU was second in the nation at forcing turnovers. However, teams converted a whopping 46.5% of their third down tries against the D.
The 2020 defense allowed teams to convert just 32% of their chances.
WKU Hilltoppers: Key Player To The 2022 Season
DE Juwuan Jones, Sr.
Can the Hilltoppers keep on generating pressure without DeAngelo Malone? The defense wasn’t dominant behind the line, but it did enough to keep forcing pressure and keep offenses making mistakes.
Jones is more of a 3-4 type of end or a smallish tackle than a true pass rusher, but the 6-3, 275-pounder was disruptive making 3.5 sacks and 6.5 tackles for loss to go along with 45 stops. If he can come up with more than five sacks, he’ll be doing his job.
Of course, the real key player is …
WKU Hilltoppers: Key Transfer
QB Jarret Doege, Sr.
He has quietly put together a very, very nice career with 10,494 yards at Bowling Green for two years and then for three seasons at West Virginia. Now he gets to play in what should be another high-powered WKU attack.
Forget flirting with a 6,000-yard passing season like Bailey Zappe did. If he throws for over 3,000 like he did last year with the Mountaineers, he has a chance to finish his career in the top 15 in all-time college football passing yards.
And let’s say he does get past 5,000. He’d finish in the all-time top five. WKU just hopes he can win games, limit the interceptions, and carry the team to another Conference USA Championship appearance.
WKU Key Game To The 2022 Season
at UTSA, Oct. 8
In a watered down Conference USA – with Marshall out of the way – UAB is going to be dangerous, but that’s a home game for WKU. Going to Florida Atlantic could be an issue, and Charlotte and Middle Tennessee could be interesting road trips, but …
UTSA. That’s the nemesis of last year who got the Hilltoppers twice – including in the Conference USA championship. Beat the Roadrunners this time around on the road, and everything else should fall into place for a second straight title appearance.
WKU Hilltoppers: 2021 Fun Stats
– WKU 2020 Scoring: 228 – 2021 Scoring: 619
– Passing Yards: WKU 6,072 – Opponents 3,753
– Punt Return Average: Opponents 20 – WKU 9.5
WKU Hilltoppers Season Prediction, What Will Happen NEXT
WKU Hilltoppers Season Prediction, What Will Happen
Why can’t this all keep on going?
Nah, there probably won’t be the crazy offensive production of last season, but there’s a chance the attack controls the clock a little better, balances things out a little more, and is able to do all the little things right while also cranking up massive yards and getting the passing game working.
Remember, as great as last year’s team was, it still managed eight wins before the bowl game. Getting back to the eight-win mark this time around would be terrific considering all the big changes.
Set The WKU Hilltoppers Regular Season Win Total At … 7.5
Also remember that for all the fun and all the pyrotechnics of 2021, the 2018 team was able to get to nine wins – eight in the regular season and a bowl victory – too, and the 2016 version won nine games before taking down the Conference USA title and a bowl win.
It’s not crazy to expect another good season considering the parts in place.
The two Power Five road games at Auburn and Indiana are two likely losses, and between Hawaii, UTSA, Middle Tennessee, Charlotte, and Florida Atlantic there should be at least one other loss, and probably two.
UAB and North Texas will be tough outs, Troy and Rice will be plucky, and …
Another eight-win regular season is a proper goal, and so is the expectation of winning the Conference USA title.