WKU out to have fun Saturday against FAU

WKU running back Antonio Andrews (5) is knocked into the air while running the ball against MTSU Blue Raiders at Smith Stadium on Nov. 1, 2012.

Lucas Aulbach

If you ask a member of the WKU football team what the keys to winning on any given week are, they’ll usually give you a conventional answer, such as defense or a strong rushing attack.

As they prepare for Saturday’s game at Smith Stadium against Florida Atlantic, the Toppers are focusing on a different aspect of their game — having fun.

Coach Willie Taggart, convinced his team was emotionally spent after last Thursday’s loss to Middle Tennessee, had the Toppers compete in a home run derby the day after the loss to lift his players’ spirits.

The idea for the derby, which junior defensive back Vince Williams and junior fullback Courtney Dalcourt won, came to Taggart when he watched the film of the MTSU game the following day. He said he saw a team that was running on emotional fumes and he wanted to recapture some of those good vibes from the start of the season.

“I didn’t think we played with a lot of emotion, and that’s something we’ve been really good at — when we play really well, we play with a lot of emotion,” Taggart said. “Just watching that game, I felt like we were an emotionally spent football team.”

The coach said the Toppers, who were picked to finish in the middle of the pack in the Sun Belt Conference, had become too serious after their strong start to the season, which contributed to their two conference losses.

“We finished 3-1 and we beat everyone in our conference last year except one team, so everyone felt, ‘Oh, we can go 11-1’ — me included,” Taggart said. “We all started to feel that way, and I think we lost track of who we are and what we’re trying to do.”

WKU (6-3, 3-2 SBC) will have a good chance to get back on track on Saturday against FAU (2-7, 1-4).

The Owls have struggled this season, with their only conference win coming three weeks ago against Troy.

Taggart said that record shouldn’t fool Topper fans — FAU has the talent to win on Saturday.

“They’re getting better every single week,” he said. “Early in the year they weren’t as good as they are now. They’ve got some talent over there.”

The match-up bodes well for WKU on paper. FAU has put up the weakest statistics on offense in the conference so far this season, ranking dead last in points scored and total yards while averaging just 326 yards per game.

The Toppers, meanwhile, rank first in total defense and lead the Sun Belt in rushing, passing and scoring defense.

Color the Toppers unimpressed with those numbers, though. Senior defensive tackle Rammell Lewis points to FAU’s Oct. 27 win over Troy as a sign the Owls may be better than advertised.

The Trojans took Tennessee down to the wire last Saturday before losing by a touchdown, running up 721 yards on offense in the process.

“FAU beat Troy, Troy is a team that could’ve beat Tennessee,” Lewis said. “It shows you that in our conference, everyone can compete against anyone.”

Senior tight end Jack Doyle said the Toppers are more focused on how they plan to perform on Saturday than on what FAU might throw at them.

When WKU is playing at its peak, he said, the Toppers are the best team in the conference.

“If we play our best game, we don’t feel like anyone can beat us,” he said. “We’re focused on what we can do to get that seventh win.”