Hilltoppers, Blue Raiders rivalry set for new chapter


They say there is always a calm before the storm, while it may be cliche, Western Kentucky’s campus Friday evening was relatively quiet…could that be a sign of things to come?

Come six o’clock tonight, the Hilltoppers will play their first ever Conference USA conference game, and there’s no better first opponent than the heated and hated Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders. The wait has been long and exhausted since the November match-up with Middle Tennessee in 2012, with WKU suffering the loss that would close out the Sun Belt portion to this untamed rivalry. Now, we look to the next chapter between these two schools in Conference USA, and I expect things to pick up right where they left off.

Since 2007, WKU is 2-4 against the Blue Raiders, and ironically enough, both wins have came in Murfreesboro. In both of those outings, the Tops separated the score by only  three points in their favor. Both MTSU and WKU each suffered losses to Big Ten squads in week two (the only two victories the Big Ten garnered last week), while also taking care of week one opponents with substantial victories.

Middle Tennessee tacked on 445 yards of total offense in their matchup against Minnesota last week, with redshirt sophomore Austin Grammer sending 255 of those yards in the air. Redshirt senior Reggie Whatley was the leading rusher for the Blue Raiders, running for 84 yards and found his way into the end zone twice. One of the things that needs to be emphasized for this MTSU squad is their number of lethal receivers that could each have a breakout evening at any given time, and with the unsettling amount of passing yards the Hilltopper defense relinquished to Illini Quarterback Wes Lunt last week (456 yards; three TDs). WKU fans should all be worried if Grammer has a keen eye for a hot receiver this evening.

Now the Hilltopper offense, despite the hiccups Brandon Doughty saw last week which included two sacks and one interception, he still had a decent outing as he threw for 297 yards and two touchdowns. The running game is a facet I would like to see the Tops utilize more this evening with Leon Allen leading the charge. Allen broke the 100 yard mark yards against the Illini, but a majority of those came in the first half (ironically enough, a half in which WKU lead when it ended). His ability to find gaps and make the play created momentum in the Tops favor early in the outing, and MTSU’s defense that gave up 284 yards on the ground to the Golden Gophers, I think it would be a safe bet that Allen will find success if Brohm and company decide to emphasize on the run package tonight.

The historic series currently sits at 33-29 in the Blue Raiders’ favor. This rivalry is one that many underclassmen of each respective school doesn’t quite appreciate yet due to the year hiatus. However, after this evening, I think the students of both fan bases will clearly see the magnitude and impact of this rivalry based on what is brought to the field. With statements to be made, and bragging rights to be restored, this looks to be the setup of what will be a fun evening. They don’t call the distance between the schools the 90 Miles of Hate just for the heck of it.