In three games, Western Kentucky has rushed for an average of 207 yards per game and passed for 137.
By PETE MOLLICA
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- Western Kentucky football coach Jack Harbaugh knows his team can't afford to lose two home games and still compete for the title in the Gateway Conference.
The Hilltoppers were shut out in their conference opener at home last week by Western Illinois, 14-0, and Saturday play host to No. 11 Youngstown State at L.T. Smith Stadium at 6:30 p.m.
"You don't lose very often at home and still compete for the league championship," Harbaugh said.
The Hilltoppers were shut out for the first time since 1996, a streak of 67 games. The last time WKU was shut out by a I-AA team was in 1988, a 6-0 loss to Eastern Illinois.
Harbaugh said fumbles and field position were the difference in the loss.
The Hilltoppers fumbled six times, losing three, negating 325 yards gained on offense.
"I thought Western Illinois did a fantastic job of game planning for our contest," said Harbaugh. "The fumbles hurt, but they also kept us in poor field position most of the game."
WKU (1-2) dropped out of the season's top 25 rankings for the first time this week. The Hilltoppers lost at Kansas State 48-3 in the season opener and defeated Division II Kentucky State 49-0.
"We've changed our offense somewhat this year, going to the traditional two-back set, but we still like to run the option a lot," said Harbaugh, who said he was impressed with the Penguins despite their 28-13 loss to McNeese State on Sept. 7.
"You know that when you play Youngstown State you're going up against one of the top programs in all of college football," he said. "They still play with tremendous emotion and enthusiasm and our fans still talk about YSU fans and how knowledgeable they are.
"We haven't been as physical as we've been in the past," Harbaugh added. "We've got Youngstown State, McNeese State and Northern Iowa in the next three weeks, so we better get physical in a hurry."
In three games the Hilltoppers have rushed for an average of 207 yards per game and passed for 137 yards per game.
Sophomore running back Maurice Bradley (6-foot, 245 pounds) has 198 yards on 54 carries and two touchdowns. Senior quarterback Jason Michael (5-10, 200) has rushed for 186 yards and one touchdown and competed 30-of-44 passes for 412 yards and one interception.
The WKU offensive line averages over 300 pounds per player and are all returning starters. Sophomore tackle Buster Ashley (6-0, 290), senior guard Chris Price (6-0, 290) and junior Daniel Withrow (6-3l, 285) were preseason All-Gateway selections.
The defense is headed by junior linebacker Erik Dandy (6-0, 205), a All-American selection last year and one of 16 candidates for the Buck Buchanan Award.
He has 25 tackles this season, including a team-high 14 against Western Illinois.
Junior free safety Antonio Veals (6-0, 190) leads the team with 28 total tackles and has a fumble recovery.
"Our linebackers are the strength of our defense," Harbaugh said. "They are going to need an outstanding effort this week against Youngstown State."
The contest will be televised by WFMJ-TV (21).