The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will do anything for the chance to play their neighboring Power Five teams, even if it means going across state lines.
The Hilltoppers will be playing Louisville at Nissan Stadium, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans, on Saturday as their "home" game in a three-year contract requiring a visit from Western Kentucky to the Cardinals' stadium. It's the first neutral site game between these teams, and first-year Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton can't wait.
"I think it's great. I love the atmosphere," Helton said. "I love that we're going down to Nashville, I love that it's at Titans Stadium, I love that it's an in-state opponent. I make no bones about it, I would love to play a Louisville or Kentucky every year, for nothing more than I think it's great for the state, for college football. I know that's not the case, but just the opportunity to play against a really good opponent."
Nissan Stadium has almost become a home away from home for the Hilltoppers, who are playing their third game and first since 2013 in that building. Western Kentucky lost to Kentucky in 2011, though Bobby Petrino beat Kentucky 35-26 in 2013 in his coaching debut with the Hilltoppers.
Louisville barely edged Western Kentucky 20-17 last year in Petrino's final season. Scott Satterfield is now coaching the Cardinals (1-1) and got his first win last week by shutting out Eastern Kentucky 42-0 . That ended a 10-game losing streak dating back to Louisville's victory over Western Kentucky last September. Petrino was fired in November with two games left in a 2-10 season for the Cardinals.
"It's good, because we did get a win, no question about it," Satterfield said. "But, win or lose, last week has nothing to do with this week. Win or lose, it's a new week. ... Everything now is straight-focus on WKU."
The Hilltoppers (1-1) won their Conference USA opener 20-14 at Florida International last week after losing at home to Central Arkansas in the season opener. The Hilltoppers finished 2018 with a 3-9 mark under Mike Sanford. Helton called it a big confidence win for the Hilltoppers.
"I'm really excited about that and it helps us to try and take the next step," Helton said.
Some things to know about Western Kentucky's "home" game with Louisville:
The Cardinals ended one skid last week with a blowout victory over Eastern Kentucky. They will attempt to end a six-game losing streak on the road. Louisville's last road victory was a 44-17 win over Kentucky in Lexington in November 2017 with Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson.
Western Kentucky running back Gaej Walker leads Conference USA in rushing through two games, totaling 252 yards on 46 carries against Central Arkansas and Florida International. Walker ranks 11th in the nation in rushing yards and seventh overall in carries.
Steven Duncan has thrown for lots of yards through Western Kentucky's first two games, putting up 545 against Central Arkansas and Florida International. The redshirt junior has three touchdown passes, but Duncan also has been intercepted four times already as well with one returned for a touchdown by FIU.
GRINDING IT OUT
Louisville coach Scott Satterfield wants to run. Through the first two games, the Cardinals have run the ball 85 times averaging 285.5 yards per game. Louisville ran for 322 yards last week against Eastern Kentucky — the Cardinals' highest rushing total since getting 346 yards against Kentucky in the 2017 regular season finale. Javian Hawkins has been leading the way, with 245 yards through two games, including 197 coming after contact.
PASSING WITH PASS
Jawon Pass had his best game last week for Louisville, completing 12 of 19 for 196 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes.