Football notebook: Toppers avoiding WKU Homecoming distractions

WKU running back Antonio Andrews (5) runs the ball against the Troy Trojans defense during a play at Troy University on Thursday, Oct. 11.

Lucas Aulbach

WKU’s football players aren’t the only ones preparing for a big weekend.

With Homecoming scheduled for this weekend, the Toppers are dealing with even more distractions than usual as they prepare to take on Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday.

Willie Taggart is 1-1 in Homecoming week games in his time as coach of the WKU football team.

He said he attributes that loss, in his first year, to letting his team get distracted in the week leading up to the game. The Toppers were coming off of their first win under Taggart before they “laid an egg” the next week in a 33-6 loss to North Texas.

“Ol’ Willie T. learned from that one,” Taggart said. “We all try and learn from our mistakes and I felt like we learned from that mistake last year.”

He said this time around WKU would be focused and committed to winning in the week leading up to the Homecoming game.

“We’ve got one goal, and that’s to go out and try and win this ballgame on Saturday,” Taggart said. “Everything else really doesn’t matter. That’s for everyone else to have fun and enjoy each other and come back here. We’ve got to try and put on a show to help them have fun and be happy.”

Defensive line building reputation of hounding opposing QBs

Senior defensive end Cole Tischer said the Topper defensive line doesn’t try to knock opposing quarterbacks out of the game, they just can’t help it.

WKU’s linemen have a mean streak riding against quarterbacks this season. Four quarterbacks the Toppers have played this year have missed time after facing WKU.

The latest victim, Troy’s Corey Robinson, was concussed after being sacked by junior linebacker Bar’ee Boyd and senior tackle Jamarcus Allen. He is currently listed as day-to-day by the Trojans.

Tischer said it’s just an effect of the WKU defense playing hard every down.

“Our defense is playing hard, defensive line has really been excelling and it’s just a coincidence of what has been happening, I guess, with our defensive line getting to the quarterback a lot this year,” he said.

WKU will face one of the tougher quarterbacks in the league on Saturday in Kolton Browning. The junior currently has 1,606 yards and 14 touchdowns through the air this year while picking up an additional 363 yards and three touchdowns on the ground.

Tischer said the Toppers will have their hands full with Browning.

“He’s a winner,” he said. “He’s a guy that can beat you in the air and he can step up and scramble.”

Taggart said WKU would have to be ready for Browning to take off on the ground if he can’t find an open receiver.

“Not only can he run, he’ll take off and you think he’s running, he’ll find an open receiver,” Taggart said. “That’s challenging for a defense and it’s gonna be a challenge for our defensive line to do a good job of keeping him contained.”

Taggart pleased with third-year development

The Toppers rank near the top of several individual and team NCAA rankings.

Their impressive play bass helped vault WKU to 5-1 and into the conversation for a conference championship and several potential bowl berths, a far cry from where the program staid two seasons ago.

Taggart, in his third year at the helm for WKU, said when he took the job he expected to be coaching a successful football program three years down the line.

“I always felt like year three would be that year,” he said. “In any system where you’re just starting over, it’s going to take a while to get where you want to be.”

A big part of improving as a team, he said, is bringing in the right personnel to fit the schemes of the coaching staff. Taggart said it usually takes around three years to recruit all the required personnel and get them involved in the system.

He said even in their losing years, several members of the team showed the potential to be a dominant group in the Sun Belt Conference.

“As you look back to those years, we showed signs here and there but it was never consistent,” Taggart said. “I think what you’re seeing right now is consistent play by our guys.”

Other notes

— A representative from the AutoZone Liberty Bowl will be at Smith Stadium this weekend for the game. The Liberty Bowl is played in Memphis, Tenn., and usually features an SEC team against a Conference USA team, though other teams can gain an invite as well.

— Freshman running back Leon Allen, WKU’s second-leading rusher this season, will be back this week after sitting out against Troy. Sophomore offensive lineman Cameron Clemmons, who missed the game against Troy with a shoulder injury, could be back on the field this weekend as well, Taggart said.

— WKU was ranked No. 30 in the first BCS poll, which was released over the weekend. ULM sits ten spots below at No. 40.