Veteran Western Kentucky offensive line coach Walt Wells knows plenty about the importance of the Hilltoppers’ seasonp-opening game against Kentucky in Nashville Sept.1 and also has some interesting insights on new UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter:
Question: How excited are Western Kentucky fans about opening the season against Kentucky in Nashville at the home of the Tennessee Titans?
Wells: “It is a big deal for us at Western. Technically, it is a home game for us with the University of Kentucky. We are going to Titans stadium to play which is only 60 miles away from our campus. It should be a great atmosphere for our fans to get down and hopefully go down and enjoy Nashville. It is a big deal for us and part of the process of going Division I and now that we are a full fledged member of Division I¿to get a chance to play Kentucky and try to showcase our talent against them and play a great game is a big opportunity.”
Question: Are your players excited about playing in a NFL stadium?
Wells: “Fortunately a lot of our guys have played in a pro stadium against South Florida and we have played in a couple of them over the years, but they are excited. For the first time, we will be wearing red (as the home team) instead of white (as the visitor) and that means something to them. They are definitely excited. We will go down the night before and treat it like a road game and stay in Nashville. They are excited about that and the atmosphere it is going to create. Hopefully we will have a lot of red in the stadium.”
Question: Does your success in Lexington last year carry over to this game?
Wells: “No doubt. It gives our guys some confidence. Both offensively and defensively we did have some success early in the game. We felt we got better as the season went on. We lost only two starters on offense and three on defense, so we feel like we have a good nucleus coming back. We have to fill in holes, but we are creating competition with our recruiting classes coming in.”
Question: What have you seen on film this summer when you watch Kentucky?
Wells: “I have a lot of friends in the business and when you talk to them they act like it is just Kentucky. Then I ask them how many bowl games in a row (five) Kentucky has been to and Alabama can’t say that. Kentucky is a good football team. They have good size and speed. I¿know some of the kids from trying to recruit some of them.
“On defense, you see they are aggressive. I know coach (Rick) Minter and we actually play Indiana State (where he was defensive coordinator last year), so we have got tape from last year on Indiana State. He does a great job and sure coach (Joker) Phillips is glad to have him on board because he does a great job.
“Offensively, Kentucky is Kentucky. It will be interesting to see who they have at quarterback. You think you know, but you don’t know. Their offensive line is something that will be special and strong point of their offense just listening to our defensive coaches talk about them. Being an offensive line coach, I¿know Larry Warford and Stuart Hines and some of those linemen. They are good football players.
“They have some strong suits, but we look forward to going against them.”
Question: What words would you use to describe Minter’s defense?
Wells: “I would say he is a coach that has coached a lot of defense and understands what offenses he is going against, so he has a philosophy. But his philosophy is the scheme being dictated to him. He has seen spread, I, shift, motion, one-back teams. He has been around and been successful long enough that he can make the adjustments to different sets and personnel groups that you see. To say he is just going to line up in a 4-3 or 3-4, he’s not going to do that. He’s going to fit the personnel and the scheme and understand what you are trying to do and take that away from you. You can see that on film and he does a great job of that.”
Question: Is this series a win-win for everybody?
Wells: “It is. It is a home game for us. Our stadium only seats close to 30,000, so we are never going to have almost 70,000 people at a home game. So for that part of it right there, it is a win-win for us. But more than that, it helps us in recruiting, especially when we are recruiting the state and can say you are going to play Kentucky. You are going there but they are also coming to Nashville to play.
“I also think it is great for the commonwealth. I have been in this state 15 years as a coach and everybody wants to play Kentucky. When I was at Eastern Kentucky it was the same thing and is at Western. Everybody wants to play the flagship school so to speak. Everybody wants to play a SEC team and play Kentucky. It is a win-win for our fans and both communities.”