4-1 Toppers still looking for first ‘complete’ win

WKU won 26-13 against Arkansas State at Liberty Bank Stadium on Sep. 29, 2012.

Lucas Aulbach

JONESBORO, Ark. — All last week, the Toppers preached,“to be the champs, you’ve got to beat the champs.”

WKU beat defending Sun Belt Conference champion Arkansas State 26-13 on Saturday, but coach Willie Taggart still isn’t content.

“Great teams are never satisfied, and our guys aren’t satisfied yet,” Taggart said on Monday. “We want to go out there and see how good we can be, and we haven’t put that performance out there yet, but we’re doing some good things.

“We want to go out and put a complete ballgame together, and we haven’t done that yet.”

The Toppers played two entirely different halves on Saturday, so the coach had plenty to criticize in the win.

WKU faced a 13-0 deficit at halftime, and senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes was out with a knee injury.

Jakes’ injury was severe enough to keep him out of the game in the second half, but Taggart said the quarterback was feeling better in the days after the game and will undergo an MRI on Monday.

Results of the MRI were unknown as of Herald press time.

Junior running back Antonio Andrews was the bright spot on offense in the first half, accounting for 80 of WKU’s 114 total first half yards.

The Toppers, led at quarterback in the second half by redshirt freshman James Mauro, were a different team after halftime.

Mauro tossed two touchdown passes to sophomore tight end Mitchell Henry and finished 8-of-12 for 104 yards while the WKU defense recorded a shutout in the final 30 minutes.

Andrews said WKU’s confidence never wavered under the second-stringer.

“We’ve got full confidence in James and Brandon (Doughty, WKU’s third-string quarterback),” Andrews said. “When a guy goes down, we’ve got the next guy ready to step up.”

Andrews had been dominant in the past two games, but he had possibly his best game yet on Saturday. He ran all over the field against ASU, rushing for a career-high 215 yards and two touchdowns in a performance Taggart called “filthy good.”

Strong performances from Andrews and senior defensive end Quanterus Smith vaulted them toward the top of the NCAA in several statistics.

Andrews is No. 2 in the country in all-purpose yards per game with 213‚ and Smith currently leads the NCAA in sacks per game with 1.68.

Smith had his biggest game of the season on Saturday, sacking ASU quarterback Ryan Aplin a season-high 3.5 times. Smith now has 6.5 sacks on the season and his efforts against ASU were enough to earn him recognition as the Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Week on Monday.

“More than anything, he’s doing what he expected from himself and really putting the work in,” Taggart said about Smith. “He played with fanatical effort on Saturday.”

WKU’s 4-1 start is a far cry from last season, in which the Toppers lost their first four games before beating Middle Tennessee in overtime.

That win over MTSU was a spark – WKU has won every Sun Belt game since then.

With a bye this week, Taggart said the Toppers would use the time off to rest and prepare for Troy, their second Sun Belt opponent this season, on Oct. 11.

“Knock on wood, but we’ve been fairly healthy,” he said. “It gives our guys a good chance to get their bodies back together and be ready to attack that week with an enthusiasm unknown to mankind.”