Football notebook: Taggart, Toppers not making excuses after loss

MTSU running back Reggie Whatley (25) is tackled by the WKU defense during the first half of WKU vs. MTSU at Smith Stadium Nov. 1, 2012.

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers who spoke to the media following Thursday’s 34-29 home loss to Middle Tennessee were understandably downtrodden, but they weren’t fooling themselves about the reason they lost.

Junior running back Antonio Andrews said WKU could’ve won if the Toppers hadn’t made so many mental errors.

“I know my team, we went out as hard as we could,” he said. “We’ve just got to fix that within ourselves. We’ve got practice tomorrow, we’re going to get it fixed.”

Andrews had a strong game but fumbled a punt return at the 15-yard line, which led to an MTSU field goal early in the fourth quarter.

Coach Willie Taggart said that play, along with a fourth-quarter failure on special teams which led to a 96-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by MTSU running back Reggie Whatley, buried WKU.

“We hate losing, but we did it to ourselves,” he said. “You can’t put the ball on the ground and you can’t give up kickoff returns and you can’t give up big plays.

“It’s all on us, you can’t make any excuses about it, Middle made the plays that they needed to and they won the ballgame.”

It was a disappointing loss for a WKU team that battled back from an early 10-point deficit. Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes threw for 283 yards and three touchdowns while Andrews racked up 396 all-purpose yards.

Taggart said the positives he saw on the field made the loss that much tougher to swallow.

“That’s what you get when you make those mistakes, and we’ve got to understand that,” he said. “If we don’t want those things to happen then we need to correct those mistakes.

WKU records fall on Thursday

It came in a losing effort, but several WKU football players put their names in the school record book against MTSU on Thursday.

Jakes earned the top position among historical Toppers in another statistical category. When he threw his third touchdown pass of the night, a 32-yard bomb to sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal, it was his 18th scoring throw of the season, tying a mark set in 1985 by Jeff Cesarone for most in a season.

Andrews racked up yards against the Blue Raider defense. He had a total of 136 rushing yards, 54 receiving yards, 182 yards on kickoff returns, and another 20 yards returning punts — his total of 396 all-purpose yards is a career-high and the third-most in an NCAA game this season.

The running back also broke 1,000 total rushing yards for the season in the fourth quarter.

Taggart said it’s unfortunate the strong performances came in a loss.

“We did some good things, we just didn’t do enough to get the win but we’ll get back, evaluate the film, and come back next week and see if we can get back in the win column,” he said. “That’s all we can do now.”

Defense struggles in loss

Fresh off of a nine-sack performance against Florida International, WKU’s grand total of zero sacks on Thursday may have come as a disappointment to some fans.

It came as a disappointment to Taggart. The coach was quick to point out that the blame for WKU’s defensive struggles falls on the shoulders of more than just his defensive linemen.

“It wasn’t all on the d-line — those seven other guys on the field have got to help, too,” he said.

Adjustments were key for the Toppers. After giving up 178 rushing yards in the first quarter alone, the WKU defense finished the game with 224 total rushing yards given up.

While it might not have been enough get the win, junior safety Kiante Young said those adjustments definitely helped the Toppers get back into the game.

“We weren’t prepared for some of the stuff they were throwing at us,” he said. “We never let people run on us, so we all got together and stopped it. We made adjustments and got it done.”

Taggart said it boiled down to who converted when it mattered — the Blue Raiders did, and the Toppers didn’t.

“Middle made the plays,” he said. “I thought our guys in the second half adjusted and played a lot better defensively but they made a few more plays than we did.”