WKU Football: Offensive line coach using Wisconsin insight to prep players for season opener
In just three weeks, Western Kentucky football will kickoff their 2018 campaign with a road trip to Madison, Wis., to take on the No. 6 Badgers. No player on the Hilltoppers’ roster hails from the dairy state, but they do have a coach who’s no stranger to games played under the lights in Camp Randall Stadium. He also happens to be the newest addition to the WKU coaching staff: T.J. Woods.
The last time the new WKU Offensive Line coach stepped foot in Camp Randall Stadium, he wore a different "W" on his hat, and a shirt with a different shade of red.
That’s because Woods served as the O-line coach for the Badgers under then head coach Gary Andersen during the 2013-2014 seasons. During that two-year span, Woods coached one of the best offensive lines in the country, a group that blocked for Doak Walker Award winner and Heisman Trophy finalist running back Melvin Gordon III.
"I think I have a little bit of an advantage knowing what we’re walking into being on that side," Woods said.
Despite having a successful coaching tenure at Wisconsin, Woods knew what it what it would be like coaching in that stadium. The year prior to coming to Madison, he coached on the visiting team’s sideline.
"When I was with Utah State, we took a team up there in 2012," he said. "Came down to a last minute field goal that we missed. Ended up falling short."
The Aggies lost that game 16-14. But from that loss, Woods learned a valuable lesson – what it’s like to coach players under the lights in front of 80,000 plus crazy fans.
And it’s that kind of experience that Woods is utilizing to prepare his young and inexperienced offensive line to handle the noise levels that come with playing in such a raucous environment.
"For us to have every edge we can against Wisconsin, we gotta be dialed in," said sophomore offensive lineman Cole Spencer. "Especially an opponent like that, being dialed in is gonna be key to us pulling off the upset."
"There’s always challenges that way," Woods added. "Practice is about simulation. For us, our job is to put our kids in as many situations as we can."
Last year, the play of the offensive line was a major weak spot in the Tops offense. They struggled to pass block, surrendering 48 sacks while proving incapable of creating gaps to get the run game going – one that ranked dead last in yards on the ground last season in NCAA FBS. WKU brought in Woods to change that, and so far, his simplified philosophy and schemes have made things a lot easier for the guys down in the trenches.
"The way he explains things to us and the way he goes about teaching us things helps us to improve on the field," said redshirt-sophomore offensive lineman Tyler Witt. "We can already see it as a unit."
WKU football’s head coach Mike Sanford has also been pleased with what he’s seen from his new assistant coach.
"Coach Woods has been huge for us. He really has," Sanford said. "The toughness that he brings to that group. We’ve got a group now that wants to come off the ball together. They want to come off the ball and they want to re-establish the offensive line. That’s been big"
While the Hilltoppers might not have a lot of depth to work with in this position group, Woods remains confident that the big men up front can accomplish big things this year on the Hill.
"I think we’ve got a good nucleus of kids that truly enjoy that, so that’s fun," he added. "It’s fun to be a part of. It’s fun to coach players like that. They’re eager to learn and I’d say they’re hungry for success."
They’ll get a chance to prove just how "hungry for success" they are when the visit Madison on Aug. 31 to take on Wisconsin at 8:00 p.m. on ESPN.