Know the Foe: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

The 10th ranked Cougars play host to the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday, Oct. 31. The Hilltoppers have a 2-4 record following their 13-10 win over Chattanooga last week. Their only other victory came against Middle Tennessee on Oct. 3.

Hilltoppers History

Head coach Tyson Helton had an impressive first year with the Hilltoppers as they finished 2019 with a 9-4 record and a victory over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl. Helton was recognized for his impressive debut season by winning the Conference USA Coach of the Year award.

While WKU has struggled so far this season, they have remained competitive in losses to Louisville and Liberty. They were originally picked to win the Conference USA title and likely have the talent to compete at a higher level if they can live up to their potential.

This will be the first-ever meeting between the Cougars and the Hilltoppers.


Senior quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome will get the start for WKU, after sophomore Kevaris Thomas started last week. Pigrome leads the Hilltoppers in passing yards this season with 632 and has thrown for seven touchdowns. Pigrome transferred into the program this year after playing for Maryland each of the last four seasons. He also leads WKU in rushing yards with 227 on 58 attempts.

The Hilltoppers are still looking for somebody who can take the reins at quarterback for the remainder of the season. They have been inconsistent at best at the position and have struggled to develop continuity.

Senior running back Gaej Walker moved over from defensive back and is the primary ballcarrier from the running back position. He has only 54 touches and 199 yards so far. Walker established himself as the premiere back in WKU’s win over Chattanooga, though, he put up 88 yards and averaged a season-high 5.2 yards per carry.

The Hilltoppers did return four of their five starters along the offensive line from last season and all five starters this year are upperclassmen. They have allowed just over two sacks per game and are likely the best position group offensively.

Football Outsiders ranks the WKU 117th in the country in terms of efficiency which is well below the average rating across college football.


WKU’s defense has even more returning talent than their offense with nine of 11 starters from last year still with the team. Senior defensive end DeAngelo Malone was the Defensive Player of the Year last season for Conference USA with 11.5 sacks and 21 tackles for loss. Malone has only two sacks this year but still leads the team in solo tackles with 31.

Senior safety Devon Key is another standout from last season. Key has 43 total tackles this season and is just behind senior linebacker Kyle Bailey who has 46.

The Hilltoppers’ defense has not been able to force turnovers this season, they have only intercepted two passes and recovered two fumbles. WKU ranked in the top 25 last season in scoring defense (20.1 points per game) and defensive third-down efficiency (29.7 percent) but have seen a significant drop this season — they are allowing 27.8 points per game and a 43.8 percent conversion rate on third down.


WKU has a highly experienced team, especially on defense, but their number of veteran players hasn’t translated into success on the field the way it did last season. The Hilltoppers have played one of the weakest schedules through their six games so far this season and still are one of the least efficient teams on both sides of the ball. If they have another gear, we haven’t seen it yet, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of taking a step up against a highly touted foe like BYU.

According to 247Sports, WKU has ranked similarly to BYU in terms of recruiting but they haven’t been able to turn that talent into success. Even if they match up similarly in terms of talent or athleticism, the Hilltoppers have been unable to get on the same page all season and it’s unlikely they manage to do so this week.

Game Information

BYU vs. Western Kentucky
Date: Saturday, Oct. 31, 2020
Time: 8:15 p.m. MT
Location: LaVell Edwards Stadium, Provo, Utah
Weather: Clear, 48 degrees
Where to Watch: ESPN, WatchESPN
Where to Listen: KSL 1160 AM/102.7 FM
Spread: BYU -30.5
Over/Under: 51.5

Written by Bridger Beal-Cvetko

Bridger is a student at Utah Valley University where he studies journalism and mass communication. He is the sports editor of the on-campus newspaper, The Review. Bridger is a life-long Cougar fan and college football enthusiast.

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