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Previewing Alabama vs. WKU: The Hilltopper Offense

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After finishing the 2015 season ranked in the top 25, Western Kentucky cannot be overlooked heading into week two.

Miami Beach Bowl - South Florida v Western Kentucky Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images

Western Kentucky is coming off a big win versus a conference foe. In a blow out win versus Rice, Western Kentucky put up 46 points on offense while racking up 649 total yards. Here is a look at their offense and what Alabama fans can expect to see on Saturday:

Quarterback

South Florida v Central Florida Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Starters:

14 Mike White (RS Jr.) - After transferring from South Florida and sitting out the 2015 season due to NCAA transfer rules, White earned the starting quarterback job over Tyler Ferguson and Drew Eckels. Coming into the game this past Saturday against Rice, White was already a 15-game starter from his freshman and sophomore years at USF, and it was evident that he was the best man for the job. White became only the third quarterback in WKU history to throw for over 500 yards during his performance this past Saturday. At 6’4 215, he has the size you look for in a quarterback, and he has shown the ability to spread the ball around and take what the defense gives him.

Last game: 25/31 for 517 yards, 3 touchdowns

Running Back

Marshall v Western Kentucky Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Starters:

20 Anthony Wales (RS Sr.) - Entering the 2016 season, Wales is already starting to receive attention as a potential Doak Walker award winner. The 5’10 195 pound running back out of Louisville, Kentucky had a monster finish to the 2015 season for the Hilltoppers. In only nine games, Wales rushed for 1,091 yards on only 155 carries to go along with nine touchdowns. His 7.4 yards per carry average was the fifth-best in C-USA history. His size has always been an issue for him, but the small stature does make it difficult for opposing defenses to locate him among all the chaos in the trenches. Wales is utilized both as a runner and as a receiver out of the backfield.

Last game: 15 carries, 58 yards rushing, two touchdowns, four catches for 44 yards

Another Name to Know:

32 D’Andre Ferby (RS So.) - The Western Kentucky offense has missed Leon Allen’s physical presence at running back since he injured his knee at the beginning of last year. As good as Wales has been, the Hilltoppers desperately need to get Ferby the ball more against the Tide on Saturday. At 6’1 240 pounds, the redshirt sophomore from Nashville, Tennessee is a load to bring down, and he is especially effective late in games when the goal is to wear down opposing defenses. As a redshirt freshman in 2015, Ferby ran for 650 yards on 164 carries with 11 touchdowns. Ferby’s physical presence will be much-needed come Saturday.

Last game: One carry, One yard rushing

03 Quinton Baker (Fr.) - A lot of people figured that Ferby would be the second option behind Wales, but Baker finished with the second most carries on the team against Rice. Like with Wales, Baker has a small stature (5’10 195) and is more effective in space. We should see all three running backs at some point on Saturday versus Alabama.

Last game: Nine carries, 44 yards rushing (long of 39 yards)

Wide Receiver

CUSA Championship - Southern Miss v Western Kentucky Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images

Starters:

02 Taywan Taylor (Sr.) - Taylor is a former high school quarterback, but since he arrived at Western Kentucky, he has become an impact player at wide receiver. With 37 career starts under his belt, Taylor is the type of player who brings both experience and leadership to the offense. Last season, he finished with 86 receptions, 1,460 receiving yards and 17 touchdowns. At 6’1 195, he has the necessary size and skill set to make an NFL roster one day. He is by far the biggest threat on Western Kentucky’s offense, and he should be respected as such.

Last game: Five receptions, 165 yards receiving

15 Nicholas Norris (Sr.) - After being a Conference USA Honorable Mention in 2015, Norris is looking to build off of that success and add even more to an already explosive passing game. At only 5’9 175 pounds, Norris is the smallest starter on offense, but that didn’t stop him from racking up 971 yards on 63 receptions last year as a junior. Norris gives the Hilltoppers a nice 1-2 punch when combined with Taylor, and he should also be focus for Alabama’s defense.

Last game: Seven receptions, 147 yards receiving and two touchdowns

01 Nacarius Fant (Jr.) - Fant is considered the Swiss Army knife of the Western Kentucky offense. Like a lot of other players on the Hilltopper offense, Fant is undersized at only 5’9 185 pounds, but he can also make an impact as runner, receiver or returner. Listed on Athlon’s preseason team, Fant checked in as the All-C-USA Fourth Team punt returner. Quarterback Mike White did an excellent job of spreading the ball around in his first start against Rice last week, and Fant made his fair share of contributions in the big win.

Last game: Five receptions, 44 yards receiving and one touchdown

Another Name to Know:

11 Lucky Jackson (RS Fr.) - Jackson isn’t as well known as the three starters on this list, but that mostly has to do with the fact that he only played in his first career game this past Saturday. Jackson only caught one pass, but it also went for 54 yards. He should continue to see a small, rotational role at wide receiver for the Hilltoppers.

Last game: One reception, 54 yards receiving

Tight End

Marshall v Western Kentucky Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Starters:

18 Shaquille Johnson (Sr.) - One of Western Kentucky’s biggest obstacles this season will be overcoming the loss of former tight end Tyler Higbee. At 6’4 235, Johnson is a slightly undersized tight end that wasn’t really utilized in his first game as a starter against Rice. He played in all 14 games last season for the Hilltoppers, but he made most of his impact on special teams where he recorded 14 tackles. It remains to be seen if head coach Jeff Broehm gets him more involved moving forward, but he did show that he is capable of making big plays with his lone reception last week that went for 35 yards.

Last game: One reception, 35 yards receiving

Offensive Line

NCAA Football: Miami Beach Bowl-Western Kentucky vs South Florida Steve Mitchell-USA TODAY Sports

Starters:

76 Forrest Lamp (RS Sr.) - Lamp might be Western Kentucky’s best all around player on offense. According to Pro Football Focus, Lamp was named a Second Team All American in 2015, and he is currently on both the Outland and Wuerffel Trophy watch lists in 2016. A lot of scouts view Lamp as a better guard prospect for the NFL, but the 6’4 300 pound redshirt senior from Venice, Florida will protect Mike White’s blindside this season for the Hilltoppers’ offense. Lamp is currently on a 40-game start streak.

Last game: One start

51 Brandon Ray (RS Jr.) - As a redshirt sophomore in 2015, Ray helped tremendously in giving the Hilltoppers their sixth consecutive 1,000-yard rusher. He started every game last year at left guard, and he was also instrumental in only allowing 16 sacks in 554 drop backs. After redshirting his freshman year, Ray has gone on to have 28 consecutive starts (including one last week against Rice). He is slightly undersized at only 6’2 285 pounds, but Ray plays a lot bigger than his actual size.

Last game: One start

70 Max Haplin (RS Sr.) - Haplin is a steady starter at center for Western Kentucky. He did miss a significant portion of his sophomore year due to a back injury, but he made his return in 2015 and started every game for the Hilltoppers. Like with some of the previously mentioned offensive linemen, Haplin’s presence has helped WKU become one of the top running teams in the country over the last couple of years, and his leadership cannot be understated.

Last game: One start

64 Dennis Edwards (RS So.) - At 6’1 305, Edwards is about as stocky as they come. After being redshirted in 2014, he went on to start 12 games in 2015 and made an appearance in all 14 games. Edwards is considered a bull in the run game, and he is a guy that continues to get better every time he hits the field. Edwards is a former three-star prospect according to 247Sports.

Last game: One start

62 Darrell Williams (RS Sr.) - Williams has started 33 games since joining the Western Kentucky program back in 2012 (14 games in 2015). At 6’6 310, he has the look of an offensive tackle and while he has been inconsistent at times, he is another veteran player who has given Western Kentucky consistency along their offensive line at the right tackle position.

Last game: One start

Summary of the Offense:

Western Kentucky’s offense is severely underrated considering what they have been able to accomplish over the course of the last couple of seasons. Yes, they lost former star quarterback Brandon Doughty -- who threw 111 touchdown passes to only 34 interceptions over the course of his career -- to the NFL, but Mike White seems like he is in for a monster season after throwing for 517 yards and three touchdowns last week.

The Hilltopper offense will try to establish a run game against Alabama, and while they probably won’t have much success, do not underestimate their offensive line’s ability. All five of their starters along the offensive line return, and their past success cannot be undervalued as a unit.

Anthony Wales is tough to locate in traffic, and it’ll be important for Alabama’s defense to not let Wales or Baker get to the next level of the defense where they can be most effective.

More than likely, Western Kentucky’s success is going to be reliant on White’s arm. He did a fantastic job in last week’s victory getting the ball to several players, but that will be a much tougher task against the Tide. Alabama’s secondary has become one of the team’s strengths, and the pass rush should be able to apply consistent pressure on White despite Western Kentucky’s impressive protection.

The Hilltoppers finished the 2015 season ranked in the top 25 (no. 24) with a 12-2 record (8-0 in C-USA). They returned seven starters on offense -- including their top eight offensive linemen and top three running backs -- but they lost their star quarterback in Doughty, star tight end Tyler Higbee -- who was a fourth round pick for the Los Angeles Rams -- and two of their top four receivers.