The West Liberty University football team hits the road Saturday to take on West Virginia Wesleyan in a Mountain East Conference match up. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on the natural grass surface at the Bobcats' ancient Cebe Ross Field.
Both teams are looking to bounce back from disappointing performances a week ago.
Coach Roger Waialae's Hilltoppers (3-4, 3-2) came out on the short end of a 32-13 score against visiting Urbana in a showdown for second place in the MEC while the Bobcats (2-5, 2-4) gave up more than 400 rushing yards in a 49-21 loss at Concord.
West Liberty jumped out to a 10-6 lead after one quarter against the Blue Knights but couldn't maintain that momentum as Urbana's balanced attack rolled up 454 yards of total offense while holding the Hilltopper offense to just one field goal over the final three quarters.
"I think you have to give Urbana credit," Waialae said. "They didn't do anything we hadn't seen on film and prepared for all week. They just out-executed us. The most important thing we can do with that game is put it behind us. We have four games left starting with a trip to Wesleyan. We need to go down there and play like we're capable of playing."
West Liberty had some success running the ball against Urbana as senior TB Kenjay Trueblood rushed for a game-high 96 yards on 19 carries but once again struggled to establish some consistency in the passing game.
Dylan Potts opened the game with a 38-yard throw to Kordarius Rice on a wide receiver pass but the Hilltoppers completed only 10-of-35 passes for 61 yards the rest of the day. West Liberty was just 5-of-18 through the air for 20 yards in the second half.
"Football is a team game and you need all 11 guys working together to get something done," Waialae said. "We just couldn't get on the same page Saturday. We had some receivers open in the first half and (QB Dylan) Lagarde missed them. I thought he was on target a little better in the second half but we had a bunch of drops. It's all about execution, playing together and staying with the game plan."
Despite the record, Wesleyan's offense actually presents a similar challenge as junior QB Jeremy Musselman ranks second only to Urbana's D.J. Musselman in nearly every MEC passing stat and the Bobcats also feature several dangerous receivers. Musselman is averaging 275.0 passing yards per game while wide receivers Lavaughn Hughes (34 catches for 581 yards) and Connor Arlia (52 catches for 530 yards) have combined for more than 1,100 receiving yards and 11 of the Bobcats' 13 passing touchdowns this fall.
"Last week our game plan was to bump their receivers and keep them from getting into their routes so our pass rush would have time to get pressure on the quarterback," Waialae said. "We were effective when we did that but when we lost focus and let their receivers run free, that's when they hurt us.
"Hughes is one of the best deep threats in the conference and Arlia has been a great addition for them. Musselman likes to catch and pitch, getting the ball out of his hands as quickly as possible, and we can't let that happen. Our corners have to be physical with their receivers, disrupting their timing and making him hang onto the ball long enough for our defensive line to get involved. We have to make him uncomfortable back there."
The Hilltopper injury report is mixed this week. Freshman TBs Marty Bishop and Shavonta Craft returned to the practice field in limited roles along with senior H-Backs R.J. Thomas and Lukas Turley. Senior TB Dominic Cooper will likely be sidelined again this week while senior safety Marquis Bradley – who set an MEC record with 17 tackles against Urbana – will be a game-time decision. Kicker Bryan Arbes, whose 12 field goals are just two shy of the school's single-season record, is questionable this week after taking a heavy hit on a botched field goal try during the second half of last Saturday's game.
West Liberty will return home after Saturday's game for a short week of preparation before hosting Charleston on Thursday for the Hilltoppers' first-ever night game on campus. Kickoff is set for 7 p.m. under the new lights at Russek Field.
X The Hilltoppers and unbeaten Shepherd are the only MEC teams without a road loss in league play this season
X West Liberty has gone over the 300-yard passing mark in seven of its last nine meetings with W.Va. Wesleyan
X The Hilltoppers have not thrown an interception in their last two games
X The Bobcat offense ranks No. 159 (out of 162) nationally in rushing yards at 57.1 ypg. and is next-to-last in time of possession at 25:02
X Wesleyan's Arlia, a junior from Weirton Madonna, left Dana Holgorsen's WVU program in August despite having been listed as one of the Mountaineers' starting WRs coming out of spring drills
X Bobcat LB Marcus Spearman leads the MEC and ranks No. 6 nationally with 9.0 quarterback sacks