Football notebook: Toppers seek return to early form

FAU wide receiver Daniel McKinney keeps one step ahead of WKU wide receiver Marcus Vasquez to score a touchdown during the Hilltoppers vs. Florida Atlantic game on Saturday, November 10, 2012. FAU upset WKU in their second to last home game with a final score of 37-28. 

Lucas Aulbach

Somewhere along the line in the 10 games WKU has played, the Toppers lost their edge — that’s the theory from coach Willie Taggart about why the Toppers fell to Florida Atlantic on Saturday.

“It’s just disappointing because we’re not playing the way we were earlier in the year,” he said. “We started the season off talking about starting fast and we need to finish fast.”

The Toppers (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt Conference) have gone cold in recent weeks. After starting the season 5-2, they’ve lost their last two games and three of their past four.

Taggart said WKU’s problem as of late hasn’t been preparation so much as it’s been the way they’ve played on gameday.

“We’re playing with confidence, we’re just not executing,” he said. “In the first half of the season, we executed. We didn’t turn the ball over as much and we didn’t give up a lot of big plays.

“We came into the year saying if we did those thing we would win ballgames and now we’re doing totally the opposite from that and I’ve got to find a way to correct it and make sure we get back on track.”

The coach said he is responsible for figuring out how to return to that early-season form.

“We’re not playing like we were earlier in they year,” he said. “I’ve got to find a way to make sure we get back to doing that within these next two ball games and evaluate everybody in our program to see to it that we do that.”

Smith Stadium quiet in loss

Saturday marked one of WKU’s worst performances of the year on the field as well as one of its poorest in the stands.

The announced crowd at Smith Stadium was 14,185. WKU has seen the two biggest crowds in school history this season but Saturday was the lowest home total of the year for the Toppers.

Taggart said the fans that were there created a good environment for the team, but his players couldn’t capitalize on the field.

“We had plenty of fans that’d help us win that ballgame, and they were loud — they were into the game,” he said. “That’s on us, it’s not our fans.”

The loss marked the third consecutive game this year the Toppers have lost at home. Their record at Smith Stadium this season is 2-3, with early wins over Austin Peay and Southern Mississippi.

Taggart said his team is more concerned with winning games than their record at home.

“If we want to pack the house at L.T. Smith Stadium, we’ve got to play better football,” he said. “We’re not playing good football here at home.”

Taggart, Toppers trying to get “number seven”

Taggart and the Toppers have a lucky number they’re trying to reach next Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.

The coach said everyone on the team knows how important getting that seventh win will be for WKU’s bowl hopes.

“Our kids are just trying to get seven,” he said. “That was our goal this week, is try to get seven. We didn’t do it and we’ve got to do a great job this week of going on the road against a tough Louisiana-Lafayette team. We’ve got to find a way to get seven.”

Louisiana-Lafayette suffered its own heartbreaking loss on Saturday. The Ragin’ Cajuns fell to No. 6 Florida 27-20, giving up the losing touchdown on a blocked punt with two seconds remaining.

Taggart said next Saturday is just WKU’s next chance to get that big seventh win.

“I’ve got to find a way to make sure we get everybody back on board and back on track with what we’re trying to do,” he said.

Other notes

—Junior running back Antonio Andrews was held to less than 100 rushing yards for the first time since WKU faced Alabama on Sept. 8. Andrews had 88 rushing yards and a touchdown.

—Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes set a new WKU record for most touchdown passes in a season on Saturday when he threw his 19th touchdown of the year in the second quarter to sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal.

—Senior defensive tackle Rammell Lewis left the game midway through the second quarter with a shoulder injury and did not return.