Football notebook: Taggart wants win over UK for his players

WKU head coach Willie Taggart high fives senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes after Saturday’s football game against Austin Peay.  

Lucas Aulbach

A win this Saturday would mean a lot of things for the Toppers. It would be WKU’s first win over a Bowl Championship Series-conference school and would instantly be remembered as one of the biggest wins in program history.

Coach Willie Taggart, however, wants the win for one reason above all others — his players.

Taggart said he knows some WKU players are friends with players on Kentucky’s team and he wants them to be able to have “bragging rights” over their in-state competition.

“It’s the big brother of the state and whenever you get a chance to play them, you’d like to beat them,” he said on Thursday.

WKU players have had several chances to practice this week after Saturday’s defeat at Alabama.

Some might view this game as less of a challenge after facing the top-ranked Crimson Tide last week, but Taggart said he has stressed to his players the importance of coming into every practice acting like you’re preparing for the No. 1 team in the country.

“That has been our intention, to make sure we had that same kind of focus,” Taggart said, comparing this week of practice to last week. “Our guys are understanding what it takes to practice and what it’s going to take on Saturday.”

The biggest improvement the Toppers will have to make over last Saturday’s game is controlling the ball. WKU was able to move the ball against the Alabama defense last Saturday but three fumbles and an interception doomed the Toppers.

The good plays they made against the Crimson Tide, especially moving the ball against a top defense, have not been lost on his team, Taggart said.

“If we can do it against Alabama, we can move anyone,” he said. “We’re confident in anyone we play that we can run the football. That’s our mentality, that’s our identity, that’s what we do, so that confidence is always going to be there.”

Phillips ready for ‘physical’ WKU team

Saturday’s game probably means more to one person than anyone else — Kentucky coach Joker Phillips.

The embattled third-year head coach has gone 12-15 in his time at the helm in Lexington and a loss to the Toppers would be another mark against him as he tries to keep his job.

Phillips, who has insisted he’s not concerned about his job security, said his number one concern is stopping WKU’s “physical” style of play.

“The one thing they want to do is run the football, which has been evident over the years that Willie has been there,” Phillips said. “They’ve had 1,000-yard rushers and a real physical offensive line and when you face that every day all it does is make you a physical defense.

“Now they’ve added an efficient passing game. (WKU quarterback Kawaun) Jakes is throwing the ball well, using his tight ends underneath, and they also have the ability to throw over top of people.”

The Wildcats are coming off of a blowout win over Kent State and are looking to score more non-cnoference wins before their tough Southeastern Conference schedule starts.

Phillips said his team made strides on offense, defense and special teams against Kent State.

“The thing we have to do is continue to improve in all three phases and we’re looking forward to the opportunity,” he said.

Coach wants to ‘spread the red’ in Lexington

A Topper win this weekend would put all of those WKU students wearing Kentucky blue this week in an interesting position.

The importance of the game hasn’t been lost on Taggart, who said a win should invigorate the WKU fan base.

“It would get a lot of Hilltopper fans excited about it and it’d be big for our program and the development of our program and where we’re trying to go,” he said.

Taggart is a coach, not a marketer, though, and he said he’s more concerned with beating the Wildcats than convincing fans to come to the game.

“Beating UK is all we’re trying to do,” he said. “Getting fans — they’re going to come if they want to come.”

The coach has been doing what he can to get students to attend, though.  Earlier this week, Taggart was at Topper Cafe giving out free tickets to WKU students who would sing the school fight song, “Stand Up and Cheer,” in front of the cafeteria.

He said the Toppers will need as many fans as they can get in Lexington this weekend.

“I know a lot of people are fired up about it and we want them to bring as much red as they can,” Taggart said. “We know it’ll be flooded in blue out three. We need to spread the red around there a little bit.”