BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Mike Sanford’s head coaching debut was anything but the razzle dazzle style that has become the norm at Western Kentucky.
Save for a 66-yard touchdown strike from Mike White to Lucky Jackson, the Hilltoppers’ offense was rather conservative. Sanford, who was Notre Dame’s offensive coordinator last season, actually wanted it that way.
There’s still a lot more to show in Western Kentucky’s playbook.
“What you saw today was more of a throwback style of offense,” Sanford said. “It can morph and change into different things.”
D’Andre Ferby ran for two touchdowns and Western Kentucky defeated Eastern Kentucky 31-17 on Saturday night in the season opener for both teams.
Ferby scored on touchdown runs of five and two yards in his return after missing 2016 with a shoulder injury.
The two-time defending Conference USA champion Hilltoppers led 17-0 at halftime and held off a two-score rally in the third quarter from FCS-member Eastern Kentucky.
Ferby and Marquez Trigg led WKU to just 100 rushing yards after producing 40 yards in the first half. Sanford said there’s plenty to show off after rather vanilla approach in the opener.
“Schematically, there’s a lot of bullets in the chamber,” said Sanford. “It’ll change week to week. We will not look similar with formations and play calls from week to week. It will change dramatically.”
Tim Boyle threw two TD passes to Ryan Markush in the third to bring the Colonels within 24-14, but Western Kentucky pulled away to win its sixth-straight season opener.
Boyle completed 29 of 45 passes for 320 yards, 107 of which went to Markush on seven receptions.
White completed 20 of 31 passes for 264 yards and a 66-yard touchdown strike to Lucky Jackson in the second quarter for Western Kentucky. Jackson had 144 receiving yards on five grabs.
Western Kentucky won the 86th meeting against Eastern Kentucky, the most-played game between two Kentucky schools. The rivalry returned after an eight-year hiatus, the longest break since the series began in 1914.
Western Kentucky: White guided the Hilltoppers last year to a nation-best 45.5 points per game and 7.6 yards per play. On Saturday, Western Kentucky averaged 5.1 yards per play and finished with 364 yards of offense.
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels took pride in keeping Western Kentucky in check. Eastern Kentucky’s sideline celebrated at the end of the first quarter when it held the Hilltoppers scoreless, then again at the end of the third quarter when they cut the deficit to 10 points. Eastern Kentucky’s defensive line won the battle in the trenches with three sacks and nine tackles for loss.
“The fact that we went toe-to-toe with a very good football team shows that we are a good football team,” Colonels coach Mark Elder said. “I and my staff have felt like that for a while now, and I believe that we are going to be a good football team this year.”
Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers travel to Illinois on Sept. 9.
Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels won’t travel far to play their second straight FBS opponent. Eastern Kentucky, located in Richmond, travels 27 miles north to play Kentucky in Lexington on Sept. 9.