Aulbach: Once again, Toppers start strong but can’t finish

Lucas Aulbach

For a team so good at coming out of the gate hot, the Toppers have had trouble finishing things on the field this season.

They let Kentucky make it a game late in the season-opener after surrendering a couple of late scores. They had no answer for Tennessee in the second half after the Vols ran up a big lead in September, and gave up a 21-10 halftime lead in a loss to South Alabama.

Tuesday’s loss to Louisiana-Lafayette was the latest installment in this trend.

WKU let a potential 17-0 first half lead slip away in the blink of an eye against the Ragin’ Cajuns. When a 10-0 lead with the ball at ULL’s 1-yard line turned into 10-7 after a 99-yard pick-six, the Toppers turned into the team that threw away the game in Knoxville and Mobile earlier this year.

Again, they continued to turn the ball over. Again, their drives fell short. And again, the WKU defense allowed the opposing offense to run all over them late in the game.

WKU’s second half troubles have hounded the team for much of the year. If you take out the Morgan State game (weaker competition) and the games against Navy and Louisiana-Monroe (missing their starting quarterbacks), the Toppers have been outscored 27-75 in their remaining four games. WKU is 1-3 against those opponents.

This isn’t the fault of just the defense, who, to be fair, did record two scoreless second halves against Navy and ULM. The offense has to put points on the board and avoid crucial turnovers — two areas it struggled with Tuesday night.

But realistically, the Toppers aren’t going to win many games giving up 198 rushing yards in the second half like they did against the Ragin’ Cajuns.

ULL came into the game with the top rushing attack in the Sun Belt. While the Toppers have struggled defending the run at points this year, they seemed to have hit their stride in successful efforts against ULM and Navy, who came to Smith Stadium with the top rushing attack in the NCAA.

While the offense struggled to score points (or even hold on to the ball), WKU gave away the game on the ground. The three-headed rushing attack of ULL running backs Alonzo Harris and Elijah McGuire and dual-threat quarterback Terrance Broadway was too much for the Toppers on the line — Broadway only had to complete five passes all night to secure the win.

“We had a lot of chances, but we weren’t able to make the plays,” coach Bobby Petrino said after the game. “We have to be able to make the plays and it’s just not a good job of finding ways to win the game.”

Fresh off of a long week to prepare for the Ragin’ Cajuns, the Toppers now have a week-and-a-half to figure out how to stop Troy, WKU’s next opponent, on Oct. 26.

The Trojans will come to town with the top total offense and passing offense in the Sun Belt — the Toppers will need two complete halves of good football if they want to take the first step to salvaging the season.