WKU football practice update, 9/28

28 09 2010

Tuesday marked the first day the media was available to talk with coaches and players of the Western Kentucky football team during the squad’s lone bye week of the season.

The Hilltoppers practiced in helmets and shorts this afternoon, and several key players sat out to rest various bumps and bruises.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey wasn’t dressed today, neither were junior safeties Mark Santoro or Ryan Beard – nor was junior defensive end Jared Clendenin.

WKU coach Willie Taggart said all of those players are currently just resting various ailments and taking advantage of a week away from contact.

The team will practice again tomorrow before taking off Thursday, Friday and Saturday. At that point, coaches will hit the road to recruit – while players will continue to lift, study film and get various injury treatment.

The week won’t exactly resemble a tropical vacation, though, according to Taggart. And if it does, the first-year coach says the team is going to have some problems.

“This off week’s going to test the character of our football team,” Taggart said. “I want to see these guys working. I’m going to get emotionally highjacked if I come out here and see someone take a day off of practice. We’re not doing that around here. We’re going to work, and we’re going to get better.

“We haven’t done anything yet. We haven’t done anything but get better, and like anyone else, we want to win. And we have to continue to work to get there.”

Defense improving?

While the numbers showed that WKU had its best defensive performance of the season, and the mood following the game echoed the same sentiment – Hilltopper defensive coordinator Clint Bowen gave the group a wake up call today that contrary to what they may feel, they haven’t really done anything yet.

Bowen spent about 15 minutes after practice putting his defense through extra wind sprints this afternoon, and not so kindly reminding them that they do in fact have plenty of work left to do.

“I’ve made that very clear, I don’t think anyone on that side of the ball could tell you that I was happy with what happened on Saturday,” Bowen said. “We walked into the meeting after the game and there was a sense from these guys like they had accomplished something. Getting better is an accomplishment, but this is serious business. This is Division 1 football – people are held accountable for their actions, coaches and players.

“It’s our job to go out and stop people – our guys need to embrace that mentality even more. If they get into the endzone, we’re not doing our jobs – and that’s not acceptable.”

Bowen explained that while his group was able to take quite a bit of positives from its best statistical performance of the year (USF gained just 283 yards of offense), the fact of the matter was, the team lost the game.

And that with each improving step, the challenge of getting that much better gets even harder.

“We are getting better, but that’s not to be confused with the fact that we’re anywhere near where we need to be,” Bowen said. “The bottom line is, we gave up a bunch of rushing yards and 24 points – that’s not acceptable. Our job is to go out and not let them get into the endzone. They had two long drives and we have to find ways to get off the field.

“Bottom line, we’re improving and the kids can see that, it just needs to be accelerated.”

Offensive focus

Asked if it was discouraging that his rushing total was the lowest its been all season Saturday, Rainey said it was more frustrating than anything else.

“It wasn’t really discouraging but it was frustrating – because we couldn’t move the ball like we’ve been doing. It got frustrating so we went to the pass to try to open up the run,” he said. “Mental focus and not finishing, that’s what our problem was. We didn’t finish and we missed assignments – and it was all mental, it was nothing physical.”

While the 88 yards was the lowest output of the season for the Hilltopper rushing attacking, the 226 through the air was a season-high.

Taggart said the improvement of the passing game is yet another example of how he feels players are starting to become more comfortable with the system overall.

One such player is sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez – who made five catches for 47 yards on Saturday. Taggart said that he’s enjoyed watching the overall mental and physical maturation of Vasquez, who seems to have taken hold of the team’s No. 1 receiver slot (and along with tight end Jack Doyle, is quarterback Kawaun Jakes‘ favorite throwing target).

“He has a chance to be really special, he’s starting to show that,” Taggart said. “He’s starting to grow up, also. When I first got here he was very immature, and he’s starting to get it – and you appreciate that as a coach.

“Just last week, I came in getting ready to compliment him – and I don’t see the dreadlocks. I was like ‘where is Marcus?’ And he had cut them off. It was a sign from him saying that he wanted to get his act together, to grow up and be what I can be. He’s starting to do it. He’s at practice ready to go every day and it’s good to see.”

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