Tops excited for opportunity to play at BYU

By Jared MacDonald of Bowling Green Daily News–Members of the Western Kentucky football team said leading up to Saturday’s game against Chattanooga they weren’t where they wanted to be. The Hilltoppers were sitting at 1-4, and then barely beat the FCS Mocs.
WKU’s next opponent is on the opposite end of the spectrum.
The Hilltoppers are preparing to travel to Provo, Utah, to face an unbeaten, 11th-ranked BYU team at LaVell Edwards Stadium, and are excited for the opportunities that come with it.
“It’ll be a very unique trip, but an exciting one. Great opportunity to play an undefeated team and I know our guys will be excited about that,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said Monday in his weekly Zoom conference with reporters. “We’re definitely looking forward to going out there. Should be a pretty good deal, get to be on national television. A lot of good things to look forward to.”
WKU sits at 2-4 after Saturday’s 13-10 victory over UTC, and will return to Conference USA action following the BYU game, with FAU, Southern Miss, FIU and Charlotte remaining. During the first six games, WKU has averaged just 17.7 points, which ranks 90th of 101 FBS teams.
BYU, on the other hand, has averaged 45 points per game in its 6-0 start. The Cougars are winning by an average of 31 points, and have only had one game decided by single digits – a 27-20 victory over C-USA’s UTSA.
“Really, there’s no pressure there. The whole world thinks they’re supposed to come out there and go put 50-something on you and dominate you and make you look bad,” Helton said. “What’s there to lose? We’ve been in big stadiums before, we’ve played well and we’ve won in big stadiums.
“ … When I watch the film, in every position they are outstanding. The quarterback’s outstanding, they play really good defense, very big on the line of scrimmage – both offense and defense – so it’s a huge challenge for our football team, but one that I’m excited to be a part of. I think back to all the places we’ve been and come away with wins, so why can’t we do it again?”
WKU’s only win over a ranked opponent in its FBS era was the 67-66 overtime win at Marshall during the 2014 season. The Hilltoppers are 1-10 against ranked teams since beginning the transition to FBS status. WKU hasn’t played a ranked team since falling at No. 4 Wisconsin in 2018.
Despite the Hilltoppers’ early struggles in 2020, and a game at Boise State looming the following week, BYU coach Kalani Sitake said his team is focused on WKU, pointing to the team’s 9-4 record last year and Helton as the coach as reasons why.
“Everybody knows the future and situation and games that are on the schedule, but I think it’s worked so far,” Sitake said Monday. “These kids, they understand the situation, but they also understand the harm it could do when you’re looking past the opponent and you don’t respect the game.
“ … We’re giving them all the respect that we possibly can because I think that’s what football deserves. This game is a beautiful sport, a team sport, and I think you do things the right way, meaning that you only focus on what’s ahead of you. You don’t look to the next week. I think it’s disrespectful to the game itself and we’ve talked about that to our players, so we’re trying to focus on what’s in front of you right now and that’s Western Kentucky and not looking beyond that. I think the game deserves that much respect and definitely Western Kentucky does.”
Helton also says the game will bring attention to the program, which brought in nearly $35 million worth of exposure to the school last season, according to a study conducted by Joyce Julius and Associates.
Saturday’s kickoff is scheduled for 9:15 p.m. CT, and will be broadcast on ESPN.
“To be on national television, we’re one of the later games … so you should have a great audience because you’re one of the last games of the night, so somebody’s going to be flipping through the channels wanting to put on a game, so hopefully they’ll watch ours,” Helton said. “It’s a great opportunity to be on a platform and showcase our program and what we’re all about.”