WEST LIBERTY - The No. 18-ranked West Liberty University football team used its bye week to work on some of the little things. Now it has a big challenge in front of it as unbeaten West Virginia Wesleyan invades Russek Field at 1 on Saturday during Hall of Fame weekend on the Hilltop.
The Bobcats, picked to finish last in the West Virginia Conference along with West Virginia State, have jumped to a 3-0 start for the first time since 1989 and are coming off an upset against a potent Concord team.
''Wesleyan got some D-I transfers and is playing well - they're a lot better,'' West Liberty (1-1) coach Roger Waialae said. ''The biggest improvement is in the offensive and defensive lines.
''They've controlled the line in all three games and have something like 17 sacks already.''
That sounds disconcerting for a Hilltoppers offensive line that is still trying to gel. It got a whole lot better two weeks ago when the team went to Southern Connecticut State and pulled out a 49-35 victory against a much-bigger squad, during which running back Kevon Calhoun rumbled for a career-high 241 yards.
''We're getting better,'' Waialae said. ''Any time you get a running back that runs for over 200, you're doing well.
''We've got a lot of guys playing up there, so there's still some competition.''
As Waialae and his staff prepared this week, they were doing so for a different Wesleyan outfit. The coach said in years past the Bobcats basically threw the ball to one guy, but that's no longer the case.
Quarterback Adam Neugebauer triggers an offense that's averaging 383 yards and 24 points a game. Neugebauer is coming off a 35 of 48 afternoon that resulted in 337 yards yards and two scores, as well as the WVC Offensive Player of the Week award. It's the first time a Wesleyan QB has thrown for 300 or more yards since 2005.
''That's what makes it so hard, is now they're spreading it around more,'' Waialae said. ''They're running more of Texas Tech-type offense.''
The leading Bobcats receivers are junior Jon Meadows (22 catches, 151 yards), sophomore Lavaughn Hughes (19-194) and junior T.J. Benners (11-123-3td). Sophomore Trey Massey leads the ground game with 321 yards and four touchdowns on 65 carries.
Defensively, Wesleyan has been even better despite playing with poor field position most of the time. Waialae said the Bobcats twice tried onside kicks unsuccessfully last week and pooched the ball twice more on kickoffs. Concord mustered 13 points.
''Their linebackers are playing better,'' Waialae said. ''They have a D-Line that can get a pass rush, which makes blitzing more effective.''
Only at West Liberty do questions like 'what's wrong with the offense?' pop up when you're averaging 443.5 yards a game. But the truth is, senior quarterback Zach Amedro still hasn't shown the form that made him the runner-up for the Harlon Hill Award last season.
Through two games, the 6-foot, 200-pound John Marshall graduate has completed 56 of 92 for 572 yards and four touchdowns, but he's been intercepted three times.
Not to worry, Waialae said.
''He's waiting to play his best game, and that starts up front,'' Waialae the coach pointed out. ''He's probably played about average, but he's finally healthy for the first time this year.
''He's been nursing a broken toe and a bunch of different things. He did such a great job for us at Connecticut of putting guys in right position. A lot of Kevon's big runs were because Zach checked out of pass plays.''
The Hilltoppers are led defensively by senior linebacker Clay Beeler who has 23 tackles, including 3.5 for a loss. Carl Hayles and Mike Buffo follow with 17 and 10 stops, respectively.
Matt Betz has three of West Liberty's 12 sacks.
''This is similar to how he played his sophomore year,'' Waialae said of Beeler. ''The big thing where he has improved is leadership.''