Football notes: Taggart talks Alabama as gameday approaches

Lucas Aulbach

As the second game of the 2012 season approaches, coach Willie Taggart addressed the media on Thursday to talk about the week WKU has had.

Despite storms marring some workouts, the coach said he saw his team make strides this week.

“We had a great week of practice,” Taggart said. “A lot of energy, our kids were feeling loose, which is nice to see and not being uptight.”

Taggart may feel good about his team’s chances this week against Alabama, but some others don’t share his optimism.

Crimson Tide coach Nick Saban ripped the Alabama media earlier this week for what he perceived to be disrespect towards the WKU program.

Taggart said his team hasn’t been shaken by the press.

“We’re kind of used to no one giving us any respect,” he said. “Like I told our football team, we’ve got to earn that respect, the media is just doing their job.”

The reasons for the perceived gap between the Alabama and WKU programs aren’t hard to find. The Crimson Tide plays in the stronger Southeastern Conference and has been a national power for the vast majority of its history.

Taggart said playing a nationally respected team like Alabama is a big part of creating an identity.

“We’re trying to build our football program,” the coach said. “One way I know you can build your football program pretty good is to play those schools and then actually beat one of them.

“We’re looking at creating a national identity. No one knows about WKU, and I think that’s one big reason why we’re a 41-point underdog.”

Kickoff for Saturday’s game is scheduled for 2:39 p.m. in Alabama’s Bryant-Denny Stadium.

Taggart said a good showing in the game would go a long way to help put WKU on the football map.

“No one knows who we are, so it’s important for us to go out and make them know who we are,” he said. “It’s on us to make them know who we are.”


Toppers prepare for huge crowd


With WKU’s showdown against No. 1 Alabama just two days away, several Toppers from the state are warning other players of the hostile environment they’ll face.

“I’ve been telling them to expect the worst,” junior linebacker and Fayette, Ala., native Chuck Franks said. “It’s going to be a huge crowd. We’ve got to stick together, get the signal from the sideline and just lock in.”

Bryant-Denny Stadium, in Tuscaloosa, Ala., seats 101,821 people but can hold more than 106,000.

This game will be the home opener for the Crimson Tide after playing its first game in Arlington, Texas.

Junior fullback Demetrius Coley, from Bay Minette, Ala., said he went to several games at the stadium when he was growing up and the Toppers should expect the crowd to be fired up.

“The crowd noise is going to be unreal,” Coley said. “I’ve never been on the field but I’ve been in the stands. It’s something everybody should experience someday.”

The Toppers will have some supporters in the stands. Both Coley and Franks said they each expected several friends and family members from the area to come out and support them on Saturday.

Sophomore defensive end T.J. Smith is from Hazel Green, Ala., and he said he’s happy to have the chance to play in front of the people he grew up with.

“Coming up here, many people can’t watch me play,” Smith said. “Coming back home, they’ve got an opportunity to come see me play.”


McNeal ready for shot at No. 1


Sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal was on the sidelines last season when WKU took on then-No. 1 LSU.

McNeal is back in the starting lineup after recovering from an anterior cruciate ligament tear and is ready to make his mark against the top team in the nation this year.

He said he’s not intimidated by the task of playing against one of the top defenses in the NCAA.

“They’ve got athletes just like any other team,” McNeal said about Alabama. “We’re just going to play our game Saturday.”

The sophomore, who caught two passes for 23 yards and a touchdown last week, is an important part of the WKU wide receivers, a group which doesn’t have a clear No. 1 threat.

Senior tight end Jack Doyle, the team’s leading pass-catcher last season, said McNeal does a lot to open up the field on offense.

“Willie brings a lot to the table,” Doyle said. “He’s not a freshman anymore and he learned a lot from going through his injury. He was also pushing the defense last year and he’s gotten a lot better, almost faster if you ask me.”

The WKU receivers will face their biggest challenge of the season against the Crimson Tide. Alabama limited then-No. 8 Michigan to only 11 completed passes and forced three interceptions last weekend.

That defense has propelled the Crimson Tide to a 40-point lead in the spread for Saturday’s game. McNeal said he’s not bothered by the line, though.

“Last time I checked, you can’t win with people that’s predicting scores,” he said. “You’ve got to play the game on Saturday.”