WKU football: Two-headed monster awaits with FAU

4 11 2010

After getting torched by one of the most talented running backs in the Sun Belt last week, things won’t get any easier for Western Kentucky on Saturday when Florida Atlantic rolls into town.

And to make matters worse, it won’t just be a top-tier running back on the minds of the Hilltoppers – but also the league’s leading receiver.

FAU’s offensive attack is paced by junior running back Alfred Morris, whose 1,392 yards on the ground in 2009 led the league. Morris is third in the SBC this season with 551 yards, and to make things more interesting, senior wideout Lester Jean currently leads the conference with 666 receiving yards.

Leaving WKU and coach Willie Taggart with somewhat of a ‘pick your poison’ scenario when dealing with FAU’s two-headed monster.

“You’ve got to stop one of them,” Taggart said. “If you don’t stop either, you don’t have a chance. We’ve got to be able to either stop the run or the pass – that’s just part of the game.

“Me personally, I think stopping the run should always be a focus. Make them one-dimensional and have to drop back and rely on the pass.”

North Texas running back Lance Dunbar – currently second-leading rusher in the Sun Belt behind WKU’s Bobby Rainey – ran wild over the Hilltoppers during a 33-6 loss last week.

Dunbar scored twice after halftime, and finished the game with 215 rushing yards and three touchdowns.
Taggart said that getting back to the basics of stopping the ground game has been a key focus this week, and it’s something he feels his defense is ready to fix.

“We’ve worked really hard at that this week,” Taggart said of his group’s run defense. “And any time when we’ve put a big emphasis on something, all year long we’ve been able to respond.”

Taggart added that the best defense against Morris and Jean this week could in fact be a productive offense – as he explained that by hardly moving the ball at all during last Saturday’s second half, North Texas was able to capitalize on good field position and eventually wear down a tired Hilltopper defense.

“I also think our defense understands that part of them being successful is our offense having success,” he said. “If we take care of business offensively, I think our defense will be fine and I think our defense is up to the challenge.”

Rainey milestone approaches
If Rainey picks up 62 yards Saturday, he will hit the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the first time in his career. It would also be the first time since 2007 that WKU has had a 1,000-yard rusher, as former back Tyrell Hayden ran for 1,134 yards that year.

More than that, however, if Rainey finishes the game with 84 yards on the ground – he’ll sit alone in 10th place on WKU’s all-time career rushing list. A spot that would put him 1,778 yards behind Taggart himself, who currently sits at No. 2 on the list with 3,997 career rushing yards, and 2,177 yards behind all-time leader Lerron Moore – who finished his career with 4,396.

Though Rainey has less than a season and a half remaining in his career to accomplish such a feat, Taggart says that he doesn’t see any reason why Rainey can’t get there.

“I was looking at that the other day, and I think he still could get it,” Taggart said. “I’d like for him to. Not only that, I’d like for him to burn it up – that’s what those records are there for. They’re there to be broken.

“If we have a running back here that’s not shooting to be the best, we’ve got problems. I want him to go get it.”

Doyle questionable, Bullard out
Taggart said Thursday that sophomore tight end Jack Doyle remains a question mark for Saturday’s game with FAU, as he continues to recover from a lingering neck injury.

WKU inside linebacker Chris Bullard has been rule out for Saturday’s game due to a multitude of injuries. Bullard had his arm in a sling earlier this week at practice, though Taggart declined to get into any specifics with regard to Bullard’s various ailments.

Kicking battle continues to blister
Taggart said that the battle between junior Casey Tinius and redshirt freshman Monte Merrick for the starting kicker spot remains up for grabs.

The WKU coach maintained Thursday that the job is currently Merrick’s to lose, as the redshirt freshman went 2 of 2 on field goal tries last week after replacing the slumping Tinius midway through the contest.

“You talk about competition,” Taggart said. “That’s been great and I truly believe that’s going to help our team. We hadn’t really put them in a lot of pressure situations (during practice) this year, but now we are and it’s really helping those guys.

“Whoever gets that job is going to be ready to go Saturday.”

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