- Associated Press - Wednesday, September 9, 2015

Western Kentucky seeks improvement and a bit more when it hosts Louisiana Tech.

The Hilltoppers overcame a sluggish offensive start to beat Vanderbilt 14-12 in their opener and now look to return to their high-scoring ways Thursday night in the home opener against Louisiana Tech. The Conference USA media chose the Hilltoppers to win the East and the Bulldogs to repeat as West champions in a preseason poll.

“Without question, the stakes are extremely high in this game,” said Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm, whose team won despite scoring 30 points below last season’s average.

Western Kentucky has added incentive to avenge last November’s 59-10 pummeling in Ruston, Louisiana, that marked its last loss. The Hilltoppers have won six straight since the loss.

“We just want to put that (2014 loss) behind us and move forward,” wide receiver Taywan Taylor said. “Coach Brohm has been preaching to us, it’s just a one-game season.”

Considering early conference bragging rights are at stake, it might be THE game of the season.

The Hilltoppers’ challenge is stopping a Bulldogs squad that has reloaded at quarterback with former Florida starter Jeff Driskel. The fifth-year senior completed 12 of 15 passes for 274 yards and four touchdowns to lead a 62-15 rout of FCS-level Southern.

That sets up an intriguing QB matchup against Western Kentucky counterpart Brandon Doughty, the nation’s passing leader last season. It also offers the ‘Toppers’ defense an opportunity to follow up last week’s impressive win over a Southeastern Conference opponent, an effort highlighted by two end-zone interceptions and Joe Brown’s game-saving tackle on a two-point conversion.

“Coming off a big game like we had against Vanderbilt, you want to keep it going,” defensive back Marcus Ward said. “We’ve got the momentum in a sense, but we know that this team is probably going to be the best team we’re going to play all year so we have to come ready to play.”

Other things to watch when Western Kentucky hosts Louisiana Tech:

REBOUND SOUGHT: Doughty passed for just 209 yards and a touchdown while senior running back Leon Allen managed only 59 yards rushing and a TD on 15 carries. Both seek to provide the dual offensive threat that made the ‘Toppers so dangerous last season.

PICKOFF MASTERS: LA Tech enters with a 10-game interception streak, including two last week against Southern. Its four starters in the secondary enter with 23 combined pickoffs.

DEFENSIVE MATURATION: WKU allowed Vandy 393 yards but didn’t yield a TD until late before the defense made another clutch stop on the conversion. Considering opponents averaged nearly 510 yards and 40 points per contest against the ‘Toppers last season, that’s improvement by any measure.

BEEN A LONG TIME: LA Tech leads the series 3-1 with three straight wins but hasn’t visited Bowling Green since the inaugural meeting in 1939.

PRIME-TIME PLAYERS: WKU seeks its second Thursday night win in as many games while LA Tech opens league play on the night for the third consecutive season and aiming for its second straight win. The Bulldogs are 2-4 on that day.

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