Tops not panicking after recent setback

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Willie Taggart has a message for his team in the wake of Saturday’s upset loss to Florida Atlantic — stay calm.

“It’s not time to panic; it’s time to find a solution,” Taggart said at his weekly media luncheon Monday. “This football team is still a good football team, it’s still the same guys that won those games earlier in the year. We as a coaching staff and as players, we’ve all got to find a solution.”

After rolling through their early schedule with a 6-1 record, the Toppers have hit a wall in recent weeks.

Starting with an overtime loss to Louisiana-Monroe on Oct. 20, WKU (6-4, 3-3 Sun Belt Conference) has lost three of the last four games it has played, including two straight. All three losses came at home.

The most recent setback was a 37-28 home loss Saturday to FAU (3-7, 2-4) — a team that hadn’t won on the road since 2010.

Senior safety Kareem Peterson said WKU faltered under the weight of its own expectations. He said the Toppers may have taken their foot off the gas after playing well at the start of what was thought to be a front-loaded schedule.

“We came out expecting these teams not to hit us as hard as they did,” Peterson said. “We didn’t have a good answer.”

Saturday’s loss ranks as one of the worst of the season. WKU was the superior team on paper, with its No. 1 defense in the Sun Belt facing the last-ranked FAU offense, and came into the game as a 15.5-point favorite.

Still, the Owls played like the better of the two teams, committing one turnover to WKU’s four and controlling the time of possession in the second half.

Taggart said he wasn’t surprised with Saturday’s outcome after watching the Owls outplay his team in every aspect of the game.

“This past game, they just outplayed us and out-coached us,” he said. “We didn’t play well — at all. We didn’t do anything well. And when you play that bad against any team, you’re going to lose.”

The loss didn’t help WKU’s bowl hopes, either.

As of Monday, there are currently 57 NCAA teams, including WKU, that have reached the bowl-eligibility threshold of six wins, with many more threatening to reach that mark in the coming weeks.

A win over FAU would’ve given the Toppers seven wins, their total from last year when they were left out of a bowl, with two games left in the season.

“Did we miss an opportunity? Yes, but we did that to ourselves, and we’ve still got a chance to be better,” Taggart said on Monday.

WKU’s next chance to get that coveted seventh win will come on Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette.

If their home-away record is any indication of how they’ll do this weekend, the Toppers might be in luck on the road. WKU is 2-3 at home this year but has compiled a 4-1 record away from Smith Stadium.

Senior right guard Adam Smith said the Toppers are following Taggart’s “24-hour rule,” where the team stops focusing on a game’s results after 24 hours and starts preparing for the next opponent.

He said the team has a great shot to get back on track against the Ragin’ Cajuns this weekend. WKU has topped ULL in each of the past two seasons.

“The past two years we’ve done pretty good against them and I think if we prepare right this week, we’ll have a chance to play well against them again,” he said.

ULL (5-4, 3-2 SBC) is also fighting for its bowl chances, needing just one win to become eligible.

The competition between two teams fighting to extend their seasons by a game, Taggart said, should make for an entertaining contest on Saturday.

“They’re trying to get bowl-eligible, too, so you’ve got two teams fighting for a win, dying for a win, and you should get a good ballgame out of that,” he said.