WKU hits the road for must-win game

WKU defense surrounds FAU running back Travis Jones during the Hilltoppers vs. Florida Atlantic game on Saturday, November 10, 2012. 

Lucas Aulbach

Riding a two-game losing streak that has taken them from conference title contention to just hoping for a bowl bid, coach Willie Taggart preached to the Toppers this week about going back in their “cocoon” and ignoring any outside criticism.

They can’t block out reality, though. With two games left in the season, senior safety Kareem Peterson acknowledged how important a win this weekend would be to WKU’s bowl hopes.

“This Saturday is the most important one,” he said. “We’ve got to knock these ones out in order to get a bowl.”

The Toppers have focused all week on getting back to their early-season winning form after dropping last weekend’s game against Florida Atlantic, and a win this weekend would help the Toppers get back on track.

Two consecutive conference losses haven’t been good for WKU’s morale coming down the stretch, but Taggart said the Toppers aren’t ready to give up yet.

“It’s not the end of the world,” he said. “We put ourselves in a position where we’ve still got a chance to do something special.

“We’ve still got a lot to play for, and there’s no need to panic and no need to feel down.”

WKU (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt Conference) has its first shot to get back to its winning ways Saturday (6 p.m., ESPN3) on the road against Louisiana-Lafayette.

Most teams don’t look at playing on the road as an advantage, but the Toppers are embracing it this week. WKU has compiled a 4-1 record away from home this season but has gone just 2-3 at Smith Stadium.

That strong road record extends back beyond this year — WKU has won seven consecutive Sun Belt road games, a streak dating to the beginning of last season.

Senior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said the Toppers relish playing in front of away crowds and need to take advantage of their final opportunity on the road.

“I guess the pressure of playing at home gets to us sometimes,” he said. “We’ve won seven straight games on the road, so we’re looking at making it No. 8 this weekend.”

The Ragin’ Cajuns are fighting for their bowl lives as well. ULL (5-4, 3-2 SBC) needs one win to reach the six-win bowl-eligibility threshold and is fighting with WKU and two other schools for fourth place in the Sun Belt standings.

Any doubters of the Ragin’ Cajuns should look at last week as an example of their potential before giving up the winning score to the Gators on a blocked punt with two seconds left in the game.

Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes said that kind of performance against SEC competition tells you all you need to know about ULL.

“You have to be pretty good if you’re going to go to the last minute with Florida,” Jakes said.

The Ragin’ Cajuns are led on offense by quarterback Terrance Broadway, a dual-threat passer who can make plays with his feet as well.

Broadway has thrown for 1,795 yards and 12 touchdowns this year while adding 328 yards and five scores on the ground.

They also field one of the top wide receivers in the conference in Harry Peoples, who averages 58 yards per game through the air.

Peoples provided the Toppers some bulletin board material when he said ULL’s comeback performance after the loss to Florida would be “horrible for Western Kentucky.”

Taggart said he doesn’t pay too much attention to the trash talk but that his team will be ready to meet Peoples’ challenge.

“Western Kentucky is hungry, and Western Kentucky University is ready to go see how horrible it’s going to be,” Taggart said.