Sanford, WKU remain optimistic despite 1-2 start

WKU running back Quinton Baker (3) rushes the ball past L.A. Tech’s Deldrick Canty (50) on Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium.

Sam Porter


Despite a 23-22 loss to Louisiana Tech on Saturday, WKU head coach Mike Sanford said both he and his team remain optimistic toward the team’s overall progress. The one-point loss was a step forward from the 20-7 loss to Illinois, especially on the offensive side of the ball. The 23 points WKU allowed was also the fewest allowed to the Bulldogs since the Hilltoppers made the transition to Conference USA.

“The main thing I took away from watching film against Louisiana Tech is tremendous improvement from our football team in a lot of phases,” Sanford said. “I feel with incredible conviction that we’re the exact group of players and coaches in the exact right time to build this thing for significant sustainability.”

For the first time in 2017, the Hilltopper running backs averaged over 4 yards per carry in a game. Sophomore running back Quinton Baker ran for 82 yards on 19 carries, the most by a WKU running back this season. The running back group totaled 146 yards, which was also a season high. Baker received the bulk of the carries after redshirt junior running back D’Andre Ferby didn’t play due to injury.

On his first career carry on Saturday, freshman running back Jakairi Moses ran for a 19-yard touchdown that gave WKU a 22-13 lead.

“It totally took a step in the right direction,” Sanford said about the run game.

“That was a good defensive front we saw from Louisiana Tech, a lot of returning starters with stout and good size,” Sanford said. “Just like we talked about a week ago, sticking with the run game and then just challenging our running backs in the tracks they take and also to go get those ugly, hard yards. They did that. Quinton Baker was phenomenal, Marquez Trigg had a yeoman-like effort, and I think Jakairi Moses has warranted the opportunity to get more carries, and that’s going to be a developing story as we play through this season.”

Redshirt senior quarterback Mike White found eight different receivers while also running for his second touchdown of the season. The preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year completed 25-35 passes, and of those 10 incompletions, five were dropped by WKU receivers, meaning White’s completion percentage could’ve easily been in the 80’s. Redshirt senior tight end Deon Yelder led WKU with six catches for 54 yards.

After not catching a pass in his first three seasons at WKU, Yelder is third on WKU’s team in catches (11) and receiving yards (111). Redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Lane also led WKU with 54 yards Saturday in just his second career game as a Hilltopper.

“On the offensive side of the ball, we have a tremendous amount of weapons,” redshirt senior offensive lineman Matt Nord said. “We have a lot of guys come in that have been grinding and making it hard for the coaches to not put them in. We have a lot of explosive players and the coaches try to get the best players on the field for big moments to make plays. I just think we’ve got to continue to use those weapons and good things will eventually happen.”

Although the running game finally got going, White still found himself under duress in the loss to the Bulldogs. White was sacked four times Saturday, including one on third down on WKU’s final offensive drive that gave the ball back to Louisiana Tech for the Bulldogs’ final drive that ended with a game-winning field goal.

“There’s still a lot to improve on,” Nord continued. “There’s some mental mistakes that we could definitely improve on, some physical mistakes, but we’re going to get in the film room and correct our mistakes and move on to Ball State.”

The loss to Louisiana Tech drops WKU to 1-2 (0-1 C-USA) on the year. The Hilltoppers host Ball State (2-1) Saturday at 6 p.m.

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.