WKU football: Most important offensive players in 2010

27 07 2010

Keeping with the topic we started yesterday with a look at WKU’s most important defenders on the football field for this season, today, we’ll dig into the offensive side of the ball.

Here are four players that have to have big years, in my opinion, if the Hilltoppers are going to snap this 20-game losing streak and have any semblance of a positive season beyond that.

WKU junior running back Bobby Rainey could have one of the bigger years by a Hilltopper running back in recent memory. Photo courtesy of WKUsports.com.

Quinterrance Cooper, WR (Sr.) 5-11, 194
– Outside of defensive back, perhaps the biggest question mark on the entire Hilltopper roster this season will be at the wide receiver position.

With the loss of all-time receptions leader Jake Gaebler to graduation last season, WKU will be without a clear-cut go-to wideout for the first time in quite a while – something that doesn’t bode well for a club that will be working with a new offense and possibly a brand new starting quarterback.

I should probably make an amendment to that statement a little bit by pointing out that WKU does indeed return tight end Jack Doyle from a season ago, a player that has the potential to find himself on an All-Conference team before the season’s over – regardless of who is taking the snaps this season.

But on the outside, someone has to separate themselves as a player that can help Doyle with the task of moving the chains.
Cooper is the natural fit for that spot, given the fact that he’s seen significant snaps since his true freshman season in 2007.

A player that has shown flashes of what he could be from time to time, Cooper (like a lot of players on the offensive side of the ball) has lacked the consistency to elevate himself into a top-notch receiver in the Sun Belt.

He seemed to be poised for a solid year in 2009, but some injuries and quarterback uncertainty might have been too much to overcome – as Cooper finished with just 20 catches for 151 yards in nine games.

He’s shown the ability in the past to stretch the field and make a big play on occasion, but in order for Cooper to be truly effective this season, I’d have to think his main focus will be providing whichever quarterback WKU starts a consistent option that is sure-handed and able to keep drives alive.

In other words: a fail safe to look for whenever something doesn’t go as planned.

The Hilltoppers have a player in Doyle that can accomplish that over the middle, Cooper has to be that player long the sidelines from about seven to 15 yards out with supreme consistency.

Bobby Rainey, RB (Jr.) 5-8, 200
– Easily the best offensive weapon on the team, it was almost shocking at times to see how under-utilized Rainey was in 2009 as he nearly rushed for 1,000 yards on a relatively meager 144 attempts.

Rainey averaged an incredibly impressive 6.5 yards per carry last season and was a serious big-play threat virtually every time he touched the ball in the return game.

I can’t imagine he’ll factor a great deal in the return game this season, but at the same time, I’d have to think that should he stay healthy – he’ll easily add at least 100 carries to his 2009 total for the 2010 campaign.

As we’ve explained before on the blog, a common misconception about the old West Coast Offense is that pass-happiness takes priority over a tough running game.

Quite the opposite in fact. Most traditional West Coast squads almost always have a workhorse tailback that allows the team to set up its timing patterns. Toby Gerhart nearly played that role into a Heisman Trophy with Taggart and Stanford in 2009. Rainey will get every opportunity to be the offense’s main man this season.

And with an offensive line that I felt was rather underrated as a run-blocking unit last season, Rainey should have every opportunity to have a big-time season in 2010.

He’s not without flaws, however. One thing Rainey will have to work on is his ability to hang on to the football. Fumbles played a sizable role in his limited carry numbers both this past season and in 2008. As more than one occasion saw him rip off a rather decent gash of yardage only to fumble at the end of the play. That’s bugaboo No. 1.

No. 2 is health. Rainey had a relatively pain-free 2009 season after seeing a very promising 2008 campaign decimated by injuries.

Another thing Rainey will have to improve on during camp will be his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield. Improvement might be a bit harsh, because we really haven’t ever seen him do much in terms of catching passes because it was simply never asked of him before – but rest assured he’ll see some balls thrown his way a few times each game this season.

If Rainey stays healthy and has a good year, the WKU offense has a real chance at being productive throughout Sun Belt play.

If he doesn’t – it’ll be a painfully long season for the Hilltoppers offensively.

(Tied) Matt Pelesasa, QB (Jr.) 6-1, 235 or Kawaun Jakes, QB (So.) 6-3, 190
– Well which one will it be?

For the fourth straight season, a Western Kentucky football team will enter fall camp not really sure who its quarterback will be for the upcoming season.

Pelesasa took advantage of Jakes’ off-the-field injury during spring practice and shined with the help of almost every important snap.

But let’s not forget that Jakes has something Pelesasa doesn’t – FBS experience.

Jakes was forced to cut his teeth on the fly as a redshirt freshman for most of last season, and while he had some youthful issues, he did show quite a bit of promise.

By first glance, Pelesasa seems more to be more of a traditional fit in the West Coast Offense given that he seems to be a more accurate passer with a better deep ball. But Jakes, on the other hand, is the better athlete and has that X-factor ability to make things happen on the fly – something that in today’s age of football has become increasingly valuable at the quarterback position.

My money’s on Pelesasa taking the first snap under center when WKU opens up its season at Nebraska this September – and I don’t think this will be a situation where you’ll see a two-headed quarterback taking the field.

That said, I get the sense that the hook will be much shorter under Taggart than it ever was under David Elson.

Elson never seemed comfortable with the decision to sit then senior Brandon Smith in favor of Jakes. In fact, if it hadn’t been for an injury suffered by Smith in the Central Arkansas game – I’m not sure Elson would have ever made the move completely.

Under Taggart, however, I think things – at least from the quarterback spot – will be a bit different. Let’s not forget that Taggart played quarterback in college, and was a pretty darn good one in his day. Meaning that he’ll be expecting a ton out of whichever player takes the keys to the offense this season.

At the end of the day I think WKU is in a decent position here – because I think both players have the capability to make things happen. Meaning that I don’t think you’ll see a situation where a ‘lesser of two evils’ gets the job, like it may have been in recent years.

The player who gets the QB 1 slot will be the one who simply out performs the other over the next month.

Jakes has some catching up to do, but Pelesasa still has to prove he can succeed and run a team on college football’s biggest stage.

So for the fourth straight year, like it or not, the quarterback battle will be topic No. 1 heading into the season.

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3 responses

27 07 2010
TopperFan

You mentioned Jakes and Pelesasa but how about the true freshmen Doughty. I was listening to the Sun Belt media conference and coach Taggart mentioned Doughty twice in conversation with the QB battle. Rumor is that Doughty has really impressed the coaching staff with his summer workouts. What have you heard?

27 07 2010
Nick Baumgardner

TopperFan,
Doughty was definitely a solid get in the recruiting game for Taggart and company, but the overall likelihood of a true freshman quarterback getting to fall camp and doing enough in a matter of weeks to overtake the starting job from two players who have already spent time in the system is low at best.
It’s low for any player in that position, and usually lower for a quarterback.
Now if Doughty had happened to enroll early and been a part of spring practice, then we’d possibly be having a whole new conversation.
He’ll no doubt get his chance early though, that we know. Every freshman entering this program will get a shot to play right away. But it’s going to have to take a huge effort from Doughty to take the starting job right away.
Two likely scenarios for him: He either redshirts and learns the college ropes (more likely) or starts.
No in between.

9 08 2010
wku dog

please keep us posted on the practices…thanks

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