Author Archives: David Harten

About David Harten

I'm too close for missiles. I'm switching to guns.

Close win may benefit Tops more this season

After watching the Toppers’ 63-57 victory over Evansville, I came to the conclusion that the Western everyone knew last season is long gone. That being said, Ken McDonald should be happy with these close home wins (and the loss to Indiana State).

This team is not going to blow many teams out this season. It’s too young and too inexperienced, especially on the bench. Last season’s bench may have been short on talent, but it certainly wasn’t on experience. They were able to come in and provide minutes when they would hold onto the ball.

This team will have to make due with the great amount of young talent and potential it has, and the only way for young talent to grow is to be tested. For a team that essentially cruised at home last season, a loss or consistent close games at home is one of the best ways. It allows them to be in their comfort zone while being tested. It could turn out to be just exactly what makes this team tick into March.

Making players like freshmen Caden Dickerson and Jameson Tipping play minutes in the beginning and then letting them sit and watch how a team with a top-heavy roster wins games helps them learn, and on-the-go learning is how young players improve.

So any seed of doubt that Western can’t compete in an already-depeleted Sun Belt Conference because they play almost every game close is ill-advised. Playing in a one-bid conference where winning the conference regular season and tournament games are key, a few bumps in the non-conference schedule will set this team up for success when the game is tight late in February and March.

-David Harten

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Monday Luncheon Thoughts

Just got in from the WKU weekly media luncheon. Here are just a few thoughts and notes from the day:

-Linebacker Chris Bullard and wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper were made available, and the sentiment Bullard echoed was that missed assignments (M.A.’s) are going to be a major focus for the week going into Saturday’s game against Louisiana-Lafayette. Staying in their zones and making the fundamental plays necessary to keep the Toppers in the game will be a key concern for the Toppers.

“We looked at the film and it just proved that the job just isn’t getting done,” Bullard said. “We just had a lot of M.A.’s and guys not in the right position, especially on the defensive side of the ball. So when we looked at the film, we just have to get in the right position and get where we are supposed to be, and that’ll eliminate a lot of the big plays that are happening on defense.”

-Coach David Elson’s greatest point of emphasis going into this week of preparation is something he echoed after the Toppers’ 37-20 loss at home to Florida International on Saturday, the team’s 12th consecutive loss dating back to last season. Elson said the team has had great practices, but the effort in practices hasn’t translated into games.

Fundamentals are something Elson said he will look to in order to get the team moving in the right direction.

“That’s what Sunday and Monday are for, quite honestly,” Elson said. “And we’ll get together later on this afternoon and talk about that, just (getting) feedback from players. I’m out there at practice like we all are, and I felt like our tempo has been good. It’s something we have to look at. I don’t know that there’s anything really, really dramatic other than, like you said, revving things up and mabye get a little music going to make them focus. Because even though you’re at home, there’s still a noise factor and the environment does change, obviously.”

-The quarterback spot is still going to belong to Kawaun Jakes, who was sound but showed his inexperience at times late in the FIU game. The freshman was 16-for-26 for 118 yards and one interception as well as 16 rushes for 81 yards and two rushing touchdowns. Brandon Smith, who started the Toppers’ first three games of the season, is still recovering from a sore shoulder.

“I think Kawaun is obviously the guy,” Elson said. “And once again it’s going to get to a feel thing, once Brandon can look me in the eye and say ‘okay, I’m 100%, ready to roll’ and we’ll take it from there.”

-Elson also added that linebacker L.J. Harbison and Cooper are both dealing with concussions following the game, and the team will evaluate them as the week goes on to determine whether or not they are ready to play Saturday.

Elson is confident that the players’ concussions will be slightly more low-key than that of Florida quarterback Tim Tebow’s, whose concussion against Kentucky was a major topic of conversation in both print and broadcast media for the two weeks leading up to the Gators’ 13-3 win at LSU last Saturday.

“I’ll get it going on my Twitter pages,” Elson joked. “…If  you’re not, you need to start following me on Twitter because I’ll have an L.J., Coop update on their concussion, every two hours.”

-David Harten

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Monday Luncheon Wrap-Up

Just got out of the WKU football Monday Luncheon, beginning the Toppers’ prep for Central Arkansas on Saturday.

Running back Bobby Rainey and defensive back Mark Santoro gave us words from the player perspective. One of the hot topics was the discipline the Toppers seemed to lack in Saturday’s 35-13 loss to South Florida (13 penalties for 124 yards). Rainey added that the team “cost ourselves in the loss with penalties and dumb mistakes.”

Rainey also said that despite a lacking passing game (84 yards), the running backs are happy to take on the responsibility of carrying the offense.

“As a running back, you want that kind of load on you,” he said. “And I know if I can’t go, there are two other capable running backs (seniors Tyrell Hayden and Marell Booker) with me that can get it done.”

From a defensive standpoint, Santoro offered some thoughts on the fact that WKU won’t be seeing anymore Matt Grothe-type quarterbacks this season. It was a frustrating night for a WKU defense that constantly got pressure on Grothe, only to watch him scramble out of the pocket.

“You have to give credit to (Grothe),” he said. “The guy’s a playmaker. He’s been doing it going on his fourth year now…But I guess it is pretty comforting knowing that we might not see a guy that might break the pocket quite like that anymore.”

Central Arkansas is no pushover Football Championship Series team. They went 10-2 last season en route to a no. 13 national ranking. Though Elson was asked if this Saturday’s game is a ‘must-win’ since the Toppers haven’t won in their past 10 games, he said the term is “not in my vocabulary”, and that the team expects to win every game it plays.

-David Harten

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Halftime thoughts

This game shouldn’t be this close, but then again, it feels like it should. Sloppy is an understatement for this one. Both teams are making bonehead mistakes via penalities and killing their field position. Defenses are ruling the ball and staking claim to the turf, it’s just not working for the Toppers (unless you count the called-back TD run by Brandon Smith). A few facts to back it up:

  • WKU has 10 penalties for 99 yards, while USF added 5 for 40 yards. A ton of these were either procedure penalties before the snap or personal fouls. It hearkens back to the 2007 season when the word “chippy” was an understatement for WKU.
  • WKU has already surpassed their offensive yards total from UT in the first half alone, gaining 130 total, 103 0f them rushing. Smith’s 42 total rushing yards leads them.
  • The longest pass play for WKU was a nine-yard completion to Quinterrance Cooper. Big plays HAVE to happen if WKU wants to get back in the game.
  • George Selvie has not been a factor for USF. He hasn’t registered a tackle and hasn’t even gotten to Smith. That’s a good start that has to continue.
  • Matt Grothe has stayed true to his niche and run…a lot. His seven rushes for 43 yards leads all players in the category.

Stay tuned for more in between quarters.

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WKU, McDonald need to be wary of “red flag” cases

Today’s (extremely late) signing of Jamal Crook for the 2009-10 season really got my wheels turning on what kind of program head coach Ken McDonald is turning WKU into. In his one season so far, he took a duct-taped together roster of little-used veterans, Juco transfers and international players and was 0.9 seconds away from taking the Toppers to their second consecutive Sweet 16. This in turn, grants him some lee-way with his job and proves that the man can flat out motivate and coach.

But now, he’s starting to raise an eyebrow with his recruiting prowess.

It starts with the Spring 2009 class, with two of the originally signed three already gone in David Laury and Terrence Boyd and the third, junior-college transfer Cliff Dixon, still around.

From the beginning I had my worries about Boyd and Laury based on their backgrounds. Boyd hadn’t played high school basketball in two seasons and had the legitimacy of his SAT test score questioned and Laury’s “high school” was housed in an old hotel with a set up much like the Boys To Men Academy. A prep school in Chicago that the NCAA shut down a year ago after it was discovered that it catered to mainly area basketball recruits with dwindling academic standings.

The rumblings about Dixon were that he was also a little on the controversial side in junior college, sitting out a number of games last season at Hutchinson (Kan.) Community College due to attitude issues and team rules violations. So he’s also one to watch.

I applaude head coach Ken McDonald for getting rid of these “red flag” cases before they really became problems. At first I was weary of the signings but now it looks like McDonald has these kids on a short leash after the quick axes given to these two players. While I see the method to McDonald’s madness, it’s still a slippery slope to go down.

And he doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the signing of Crook, who spent last season at a fifth-year prep school in Maine to work on his academics and had to wait this long to both be cleared by the NCAA and await word on eligibility for a scholarship. Factor in the addition in of Oklahoma transfer Juan Patillo to the squad –his third school in four years after spending two seasons at the College of Southern Idaho–and my thoughts are that McDonald and his staff may be giving too many at-risk kids chances when they don’t deserve them. Patillo was dismissed from the Sooners squad for repeated violations of the team’s policy.

It’s a case seen with a coach like West Virginia’s Bob Huggins. While at Cincinnati, Huggins repeatedly gave high-risk recruits and transfers chances to join the Bearcats and reform and more often than not, that blew up in his face. Huggins began to look like a glutton for talented players that lacked character, but was really just too nice to say no to a kid that wanted a chance. I’ve met Huggins and so have others I know and the guy is a classic act off the court who would do anything for someone he thought was deserving, whether they actually were or not.

This was his downfall as a coach then, it’s a path that is starting to look similar with McDonald.

He’s taken chances on five questionable recruits in the past six months and already had two backfire on him. He has good intentions, but everyone knows the cliche about what the path to hell is paved with.

It’s not an issue so much now, and McDonald is handling it way better in his year-and-a-half as head coach than Huggins ever did by taking swift, decisive action against players that are already on thin ice. I support and agree with that, but after a while, they may not be enough.

Only time will tell whether any of the rest of the spring/summer 2009 recruiting class will turn out like Boyd and Laury, but it’s nothing like I’ve ever seen in college basketball and hopefully McDonald won’t let it go on for his entire tenure.

-David Harten

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WKU Weekly Media Luncheon Wrap-Up

Just got back from the WKU football weekly media luncheon. Along with head coach David Elson, senior wide receiver Jake Gaebler and junior linebacker Thomas Majors gave a few words on the Toppers’ season-opening game at Tennessee on Saturday. A few key points from today’s festivities:

  • Gaebler said the older players are preaching to the younger, less experienced players that the key to playing in the 101,011-seat Neyland Stadium (and believe me, there WILL be more people in there than that come game day) is to maintain focus and keep the motivation up.
  • Part of that motivation has been the rankings that have been more than prevalent in the media. Most publications that rank all 120 Football Bowl Subdivision teams have WKU at the bottom of their respective lists. “We’re using the fact that most people are overlooking us as motivation,” Gaebler said.
  • Majors made a point that the defense feels that Tennessee doesn’t do anything different than any other FBS team, but what they do, they do well. He gave the Power-I, pro-style offense that Volunteer head coach Lane Kiffin will be keen on, as an example. It’s a major prepping point for the Topper defense.
  • Elson’s biggest selling point is to the players is that they must stay within their means going into the first game. “You must stay within your system and should just try to cover what other teams might do,” Elson said.
  • Elson said he is more comfortable going into this season than in any other season before due to the fact that his roster is stacked with more talent. He attributed that to the rise to the FBS and to the name of WKU football getting out there more.
  • He also said that along with preparing for the noise of Neyland Stadium with loud music and silent cadences, Elson added that the players must train their minds for the rigors of playing in that environment.
  • Despite being out for the Saturday night scrimmage, running backs Marell Booker and Bobby Rainey will be ready to play at Tennessee on Saturday.

-David Harten

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SEC adopts new media policy

Along with many things the Southeastern Conference likes to control, add the media to that list.

The SEC has adopted a new media policy that will give them total control over any content that is produced with SEC ties. This includes photos, radio and video highlights, and, to some extent, print.

So for example, if either Tennessee or WKU is to win on a last-second Hail Mary, the video or photo highlights of that play are property of the SEC, which in turn means media outlets may be denied usage of that by rule.

This new policy comes on the heels of the SEC’s new fan policy that puts a great amount of restriction on fans who live blog, take pictures and send information from SEC events from the stands.

With WKU going to Knoxville to play the Volunteers for both teams’ season openers, this is a big issue. For a small market like Bowling Green, the Toppers are a huge source of entertainment and revenue for the community, especially the media. Restrictions like this can hinder the coverage of WKU in some aspects, who have played an SEC team in football six of the past seven seasons and play SEC members Kentucky, Tennessee and Vanderbilt in other sports on a consistent basis.

This is just another way the SEC is trying to make themselves an entity of their own, playing bigger than the NCAA. This is all a new tactic in trying to steer the fanbases to the SEC Network and their coverage, while other media markets (some big, some small) suffer in their coverage.

Gannett Newspapers and the Associated Press have announced they will not sign the media credential agreement in protest.

My own thought is, where is the NCAA in all this? We all know that the NCAA has its own agenda in who they police and who they let slide, and if any conference gets a free pass for more major indiscretions, it’s the SEC. But media coverage makes their world go around on the athletic field, and in terms of that coverage, the national, regional and local media is a bigger entity than the SEC Network or SECSports.com.

SEC Associate Athletic Commissioner Charles Bloom announced that they are making revisions to the policy, which better come in major ways if they expect to keep any amount of the dwindling respect the media has for that conference.

-David Harten

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