WKU-UK postgame thoughts

12 09 2010

What did we learn from Western Kentucky’s 63-28 loss at Kentucky on Saturday?

Plenty.

Let’s begin.
1) Willie Taggart really, really gets it

Said woman take it slow
It’ll work itself out fine
All we need is just a little patience
Said sugar make it slow
And we’ll come together fine
All we need is just a little patience
(inhale) Patience…

Apart from being a pretty solid rock ballad, this old Guns N’ Roses tune may as well be the fight song for the WKU football team this season.

After getting walloped on the scoreboard Saturday, it would’ve been very easy for Taggart to just roll on his team following the game.

And I was one of those reporters following the game that gave him every chance. But trust me, he wanted no part of it.

The Hilltoppers shot themselves in the foot time and time again in the second quarter. There were penalties, botched snaps, missed tackles, poor kick coverages and everything in between.

In other words, plenty for a coach to get overly frustrated with.

But let’s face facts here, folks. This team was 0-12 last year and has now lost 22 straight games – what good does it do to focus solely on the negative aspects of a lopsided loss to a team that was supposed to beat you this bad anyway?

The answer is that it does absolutely nothing for you.

“We scored 28 points, I think we got better,” Taggart said bluntly following the loss.

This is an extremely delicate situation from a confidence standpoint for the entire WKU football program. And as they say, one of the first steps to recovery is acceptance.

There’s no point in ignoring it or pretending otherwise – the Hilltoppers have an extraordinarily long way to go as a football program. In just about every aspect.

And while Taggart and his coaching staff continue preparation to win a football game each week, at the end of the day, if the team does even one thing better than it did the week before – no one can be completely disappointed.

Especially during the season’s first four weeks, when WKU finds itself in games with teams from the Big 12, the SEC, the Big Ten and the Big East.

Now if WKU had come out in the second half Saturday and completely quit, that’d be one thing.

But it really didn’t – it continued to work on every possession. Taggart didn’t clear the benches, he left his top players in the game for basically the duration. Because no matter what, game reps can’t be duplicated.

This entire thought process changes if we’re talking the ‘baby steps’ line in week five, however. At some point, this team needs to put together all its ‘flashes’ and grab a win.

And I’d be willing to bet that if the Hilltoppers are five or six games into the season and still winless, Willie Taggart won’t be trying to focus solely on the positive either.

But for now, for a team that hasn’t won a game since 2008, 28 points against an SEC opponent is nothing to shake a stick at.

Sixty-three points allowed, however? We’ll get to that in a second.

Hey, I was a proponent of the whole ‘patience’ thing last season. One does not build a consistent FBS winner in one season. The administration thought otherwise, and felt that the time for a change was needed.

They made that change, and now they have no choice.

Patience will be a virtue all season, whether you like it or not.

2) The WKU defense is overmatched
– Outside of a handful of games last season, I’ve never really been one that’s questioned the overall effort of the WKU defense since 2008.

But one thing has been obvious in that time, and it remains to be that way. And that’s the fact that physically and athletically, especially in the defensive backfield, the Hilltoppers are completely overmatched when it comes to playing top-tier competition.

Judging these guys against teams from the Big 12 and the SEC really doesn’t do much, because no matter what anyone tells you, the goal for this program is to win in the Sun Belt.

Again, like it or not, hate it or not, Western Kentucky University plays in the Sun Belt – and until proven otherwise, it’s not moving anytime soon. So getting angry and jumping off a bridge because the defense got taken to task against an SEC team that’s been to four straight bowl games really just doesn’t make any sense.

But a couple of things have got to start changing, and I’d have to suspect they will.

The defensive line has shown flashes of improvement at times this season, but far too often, it’s just getting blown off the ball. Just like last week against Nebraska, UK runners were getting four yards down the field before anyone even had a chance to grabbing their jerseys. That has to change.

The Hilltopper defensive backs have got to become more physical – and if the current ones can’t be, then they need to head to the sidelines.

Taggart said he wanted to find players that wanted to tackle, well he and defensive coordinator Clint Bowen now need to find DBs that are willing to not get pancaked by wide receivers on every sweep play.

A lot of that will have to develop in practice, and a lot will also have to come in the recruiting game.

Linebacker-wise? I might be in the minority here, but I think Chris Bullard, Thomas Majors and Orlando Misaalefua are a pretty solid trio. But they can’t make every tackle at every spot on the field. And they likely can’t play every down of every game. They need help also.

Clint Bowen talked about how defense is all about effort when he first took this job – and that’s what it has to be for this group. Rarely are the Hilltopper defenders going to ‘out-talent’ anyone. It’s going to have to be a matter of work, effort and just refusing to get blocked.

But that’s attitude, and that – like everything else – takes time.

3) Bobby Rainey’s a superstar
– We know that.

Does he need help? Yes.

How much? Not a heck of a lot.

Here’s the help Bobby Rainey needs.

He needs offensive lineman to stay onside. He needs Kawaun Jakes to consistently make 10-15 yard throws and he needs wide receivers to hang on to the football.

Outside of that? I’m not one that really thinks Taggart needs to sit and monitor each and every carry Rainey gets.

Does he need 30 every week? Probably not. But if he’s not hitting for at least 20 – something’s probably wrong.

He’s a player, that in this offense, needs 25 touches per game – no matter what. He goes through no contact in practice, so there’s no concern about him getting hurt there.

And limiting a fourth-year junior in games just because ‘he might get hurt’ really makes no sense to me.

Players that need to find a way to step up are guys like Quinterrance Cooper – who has started the first two games of the season and now has just one catch. Another would be tight end Jack Doyle. Now, to be fair, Doyle has been pretty well blanketed over the first two weeks – but two catches against Nebraska and one against Kentucky aren’t going to really get it done.

Doyle’s looks will come in time, though, and he’s simply too good to struggle all season.

As for Jakes? He, like most of his teammates, looked very frazzled during what was a disaster of a second quarter Saturday.

But I’m going to guess Taggart will show his team that second quarter one time, and then likely burn the tape. Jakes still showed an ability to control a huddle, keep a tempo and make the easy throws when given time.

He wasn’t spectacular Saturday – but in no way shape or form was he bad enough to lose a position. Jakes is an interesting guy, and a pretty tough kid – I’d have to think he’ll be fine in time as well.

But here’s the deal for the WKU offense folks.

“It’s Bobby’s world,” Taggart said after Saturday’s game. “We’re just living in it.”

Through two games against two pretty solid defenses, Rainey is fourth nationally in rushing.

That’s pretty good I’d say.

That’s the identity of this team. Bobby Rainey right, Bobby Rainey left – and a couple of intermediate throws across the middle.

You’ve got one of the top backs in the league, and frankly, one of the top backs in the southeastern part of the country.

Use him. And use him a lot.

Football doesn’t have to be a mystery. It’s not a complex game – if you’re good at a few things on offense, you go to those wells until someone slows you down. And when they slow you down, you go back to those wells and make them prove they can stop you again.

That’s how Taggart’s operated over the first two weeks, and I wouldn’t expect that to change much.

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3 responses

12 09 2010
Strve R

You are terrific in your coverage…THE ONLY brite spot in following WKU Football these days…ok, maybe Bobby Rainey too!!

12 09 2010
TopperFan

I feel Rainey is getting way too many carries. We know he is are best player and when we start playing important confrence games we will need him. We need to use Rainey but give other backs more reps. Giving other player reps will only make the team more stronger especially with depth and will help out Rainey for a long season. Second when we where down 49-28 and we had the ball why are we still running on first and second down? Why not work on are two minute offense. Down by 21 pts why not score as quick as we can? We ran it and the clock kept ticking. Does not send a good message to the players it bascally tells the players the coaches have thrown in the towel. Regardless of who you are playing you need to play to win. Regardless of the score and opponent. Jakes is really un tested to me. Once teams start crowding the line of scrimage and bascally stop Rainey who will step up? Very predictable on offense run on first and second down and throw in long situations on third. Need more creativity. Need to get other players involved. Understand Doyle is getting double teams but it is up to the coaches to get him involved with the offense. Your thoughts? Another great article……..

12 09 2010
ky_scoop

Nick, as someone in the media, I really appreciate your objective insight to WKU football. There’s no awkward spin, just an honest look at the facts of the overall performance. That’s getting increasingly difficult to find these days (which is a little disturbing). Keep up the great work.
I think you’re synopsis is accurate in just about every way. There’s some bright spots out there on both sides of the ball– more on offense than defense. But plenty of work to be done.

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