LEXINGTON, Ky.-With a stable of running backs like WKU has, it's easy to lose sight of one of them.
Redshirt freshman Bobby 'make it' Rainey first jumped on the scene in the spring game, with the winning touchdown on the last play. But with juniors Tyrell Hayden and Marell Booker in front of him, carries have been hard to come by.
Though young, Rainey has shown he has plenty of talent. The Toppers have now found how to best use that talent.
Through the first two games, kickoff returns were split among sophomore Quinterrance Cooper and Marell Booker, while Cooper and junior Jake Gaebler.
But at Alabama, the Toppers tried Rainey at kickoff returner. Rainey had returns of 25 and 32 yards and impressed the coaches.
Against Murray State, Rainey returned a kick 92 yards before being tackled at the one-yard line in the third quarter.
Now, entering tomorrow's game at Kentucky, Rainey has earned the job of not only all kickoff returns, but punt returns as well.
"To be honest with you, we're trying to find ways to get him the ball and we felt like, he really is a natural at catching and so we wanted to give him the opportunity and just, finally felt like he was ready to go," special teams coordinator Mike Dietzel said. "We put him in there against Alabama and he made a nice return. We said, let's go with him in the Murray game and he made the big return in that game. He's a dangerous guy."
Rainey's not new to returning, having done the same in high school.
"It's just like running back," he said "You've gotta have great vision and you've gotta be able to set up the block. That's basically what returning is, setting up the block and having vision. That's something that I've been blessed with."
Get that outta here!
Special teams has shone bright outside of just returning.
At EKU, the kickoff coverage team recovered a fumble by the Colonels, late in the third quarter, that set up WKU for a game-deciding touchdown.
Against Murray State, senior Alonzo Higgins blocked an extra point attempt in the second quarter by the Racers that halted any brief momentum. Later, in the fourth quarter, freshman Jared Clendenin blocked a field goal attempt by Murray State.
"I'd like to see us block some kicks against Kentucky," coach David Elson said. "Murray did a couple of things in that protection that, I wouldn't say it wasn't sound, but we just felt like we could get there and we did. My feeling right now, is I wanna do some of these things against the good people on our schedule, not that Eastern and Murray aren't good, but the better people on our schedule, then we'll feel a little bit better about where we're at."
Laying full claim
Murray State also marked the first game in which senior Tanner Siewert had full kicking duties.
Junior Zac Minturn had the duties at Indiana, then the two split field goal kicking responsibilities in the next two games. Now, Siewert has full control of the kicking and will again be kicking all extra points, field goals and kickoffs at Kentucky.
"It was after the Eastern Kentucky game, we felt like, let's have Tanner be our guy because he's getting the ball up, he was hitting the ball really well," Dietzel said. "Zac was too, he just wasn't quite getting the height that we wanted on some of the field goals, so we went with Tanner in the Alabama game and then kept him strong in the Murray game. Right now, he's kicking the ball good, he's getting good hang time and pretty good depth on his kickoffs, as well as on field goals and extra points."
Though Siewert missed an extra point against Murray State, Elson said he has full confidence in his now full-time kicker.
"He's been fine," Elson said. "I think just human nature, you let up a little bit there and then the ball got away from him. Definitely, Tanner's the guy and he's been kicking well."
Siewert remained consistent all through this week's practices.
Grab that pass!
The Toppers quelled any threat Murray State had on the ground, allowing just 11 yards rushing. The Racers were still able to do some damage threw the air, completing 26 of 42 passes for 228 yards.
This week, in addition to practice, defensive backs coach Travaris Robinson has worked with some of the defensive backs for some extra instruction, including yesterday, in an effort to get his younger players on the right track.
"As a unit, we really need to get better with our technique and watching our eyes and keeping our eyes on the right things," redshirt freshman safety Ryan Beard said. "Personally, we've been staying after practice, just doing the little things to get better as a unit, get closer together so we can feel what each other are doing, more than guessing."
Elson has acknowledged the pass defense as a concern, but not a major one.
"(Murray State) hit us on a few that, those guys made plays," he said. "They've got scholarships and they're pretty good. When you get the run shut down and, people that absolutely, positively want to throw the ball, can throw the ball. I'd like to get in that situation. That's a heck of a lot better situation to be in than if they're running it right down your throat and you can't stop it. When they get in those situations, we've just gotta try to keep them from hitting the home run ball and scoring touchdowns with the big pass and just keep it front of us. If Kentucky throws for 228 this week and runs for 11, I'm gonna be ok with that."
Inside Hilltopper Sports has been granted an all-access pass with the team for the UK game. We'll be giving you an inside look of the team, with behind the scenes footage from the Toppers' bus ride to Lexington, leading up to the game, during and after.
Stay tuned to insidehilltoppersports.com for complete game coverage after the game.
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