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 came in to try to bomb for for a bazillion yards. The former West Virginia starter brought a ton of experience and great career stats, but he shockingly entered the transfer portal late in fall camp. In comes Austin Reed, a big-time bomber for D-II national champion West Florida. He knows how to push the ball deep.
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.