Football notebook: FIU game could have recruiting impact

Western Kentucky’s Marcus Vasquez, center, looks to outrun Southern Mississippi’s Clifford Johnson, left, and Reggie Hunt during the game Saturday, Sept. 22, 2012 at Smith Stadium. Western Kentucky defeated Southern Mississippi 42-17. 

Lucas Aulbach

The Toppers have benefited from several strong recruiting classes under coach Willie Taggart, and the base of most of those classes have come from the state of Florida.

That’s another reason why Saturday’s game in Miami against Florida International means a lot to the WKU program. A win would do more than help the Toppers get back on track to earn a bowl berth and satisfy the 32 Florida natives on the team — it would also make WKU look good to any potential recruits who could be at the game.

Taggart said he knows a lot of interested high school players will be watching the game on Saturday.

“I think a lot of those kids are going to be watching that game and want to see how well we do,” he said. “I’m sure a lot of the kids will be at the game and watching, a lot of the kids we’re recruiting.”

Of course, the Toppers will take a big win anywhere they can get one, the coach said.

“It’s important that we go put on a show in general,” Taggart said. “You win ballgames and you play well then you attract more people, whether it’s in Florida or anywhere else.”

WKU adjusting to middle of SBC pack

WKU (5-2, 2-1 SBC) can take the target off of its back — when the Toppers fell to ULM on Saturday, they fell out of first place in the Sun Belt Conference into a second-place tie with several other schools.

Senior guard Luke Stansfield said the team would not lose focus as they try to play their way back into title contention.

“We can look back and dwell on the loss, but that’s not gonna help us this week,” he said. “We’ve got everything in front of us, so we just have to focus on the next game and keep everybody’s eyes on the prize.”

WKU is now one of four Sun Belt teams with one conference loss, along with Arkansas State (5-3, 3-1 SBC), Middle Tennessee State (4-3, 2-1) and North Texas (3-4, 2-1). The Toppers beat ASU earlier this season and will face MTSU and North Texas in November.

Stansfield said all the Toppers can do to help their bowl chances is top continue to win.

“What we do have in our hands is opportunity to win this next game,” he said. “Then after this game, it’s the next game. We’ve just got to take one game at a time, control what we can control and focus on that.”

FIU defense a potential challenge

The Panther defense isn’t intimidating on paper — FIU ranks dead last in the Sun Belt in scoring defense, giving up an average of 37.4 points per game.

The Toppers, however, are preparing to face a top defense on Saturday.

Taggart said the biggest threat the Toppers will face this weekend is the FIU defensive line.

“I would say by far the most athletic overall defense we’ve faced this year,” he said. “I think their defensive line is really good. I think this pass rush will be the best pass-rushing d-line we’ve faced this year, and that’s including Alabama.”

Stansfield may see significant time against the Panthers with three Topper offensive linemen listed as questionable or probable on the WKU injury report.

He said the FIU has playmakers all over the defense.

“Name a position and they’ve got a good player,” he said. They’ve got a couple guys in the secondary, all three linebackers are really good and I think they return their whole d-line from last year. Just pick a position, they’ve got players.”

Senior wide receiver Marcus Vasquez said he thinks the Panthers will use a lot of zone defense on Saturday but the Toppers will be prepared for whatever they throw at them.

“You never know, so you just have to expect everything and come out here and prepare for everything,” Vasquez said.

Other notes

– Sophomore wide receiver Tyler Higbee is out for the season with a shoulder injury and will likely redshirt this season, a WKU spokesperson said.

– There are three Topper offensive linemen on the most recent injury report — senior Ed Hazelett (arm), sophomore Cam Clemmons (shoulder), and junior Luis Polanco (ankle). Hazelett is listed as questionable while Polanco and Clemmons are listed as probable.

– Junior running back Antonio Andrews currently is ranked No. 1 in the Sun Belt in rushing yards (759), rushing yards per game (108.4), average yards per punt return (14.3), and average yards per kick return (30.4). His average of 202.7 all-purpose yards per game ranks at the top of the Sun Belt and is No. 3 in the NCAA.