Toppers face MTSU in high-stakes game

Senior defensive back Ryan Beard sacks MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore for a lose in the fourth quarter at Floyd Stadium on Oct. 6, 2011. WKU won the game 36-33. 

Lucas Aulbach

When WKU faced Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro on Oct. 6 last season, the Toppers were winless through four games and looking for a spark to get them on the right track.

The stakes will be a little different when the Blue Raiders come to town on Thursday.

The Toppers beat a 1-3 MTSU team in double-overtime in that game and proceeded to sweep the rest of their Sun Belt Conference schedule en route to a 7-5 season.

When WKU (6-2, 3-1 SBC) takes on MTSU (5-3, 3-1 SBC) in Smith Stadium at 8:15 p.m. on Thursday, the game will be more about bowl positioning than saving a season.

“This year is totally different,” coach Willie Taggart said. “Both teams are playing well and both teams have a lot to play for.”

Senior defensive end Cole Tischer, coming off of a two-sack game, said the Toppers know MTSU will be looking for revenge.

“They’ll definitely be looking for a win, just like we’re going to be looking to beat them,” Tischer said. “That double-overtime win was fun. That’s all I can say.”

While the Blue Raiders need one more win to become bowl-eligible, the Toppers earned eligibility on Saturday with a 14-6 road win over Florida International. They have four more regular season games to jockey for the best bowl berth they can receive.

Athletics Director Todd Stewart said representatives from several bowls have all seen WKU play this season. Bowl reps will have a chance to watch WKU this week as well — the game will be televised nationally on ESPNU.

The national TV audience will watch the Toppers deal with one of the Sun Belt’s best quarterback-receiver combinations, junior passer Logan Kilgore and senior wide receiver Anthony Amos.

Kilgore has thrown for 1,930 yards and 12 touchdowns this season.

Amos is his favorite target. The senior leads the Sun Belt in receptions (53), receiving yards (794) and receiving yards per game (99.2). His 794 receiving yards are more than double that of MTSU’s second-leading receiver.

Sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling, WKU’s answer for opposing deep-threats at receiver, said he’s preparing for Amos as he would for any other opponent.

“We don’t feel one person can just beat us,” Dowling said. “I’m going to prepare for their whole offense, not just him.”

WKU will take part in its second and final Thursday game of the season this week. The Toppers beat Troy on the road in their last Thursday night game.

This time, the Toppers will have the benefit of playing this month in front of a home crowd.

Expectations for fan turnout are high — WKU has already played in front of the largest and second-largest home crowds in school history this season, and the first 5,000 fans to show up on Thursday will receive a free red towel.

Stewart said he thinks the Thursday game will attract students.

“To me, Thursday is what it’s about for students, because it’s a game during the week,” he said. “It’s not a Saturday game where people may be going home. It’s a Thursday night game, it’s national TV, and we need our students to be out in full force.”

Taggart said fans should expect an exciting game against the Blue Raiders.

“Both teams are hungry and both teams want something special,” he said. “We’ll see who wants it the most.”