WKU wins big in season opener

From left, WKU senior wide receiver Marcus Vasquez and sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal celebrate their victory after Saturday’s football game against Austin Peay. WKU won the game with a final score of 49-10. 

Lucas Aulbach

Coach Willie Taggart said earlier this week that his team was ready to play two games to open the season on Saturday.

His Toppers came out and scored enough points for two games. WKU topped Austin Peay at Smith Stadium by a score of 49-10 to open the season 1-0.

The Governors weren’t able to find success on either side of the ball from the get-go, as WKU rushed to a 35-0 halftime lead before spending much of the second half with starters on the bench.

The win snaps a seven-year streak of opening day losses for WKU. The Toppers had not won their first game of the season since 2005.

Taggart said he was glad his team didn’t hold anything back.

“I’m happy with our football team,” he said. “You talk about being a great football team and not being one of those teams that occasionally wins football games, not being one of those teams that plays to the level of their competition.

“We want to play against ourselves and go on out and see how good we can be.”

The Toppers benefited from a career night out of quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

The senior opened his last season at WKU in dominating form, throwing for 296 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.

He also picked up 21 yards and another score on the ground in less than three quarters of action.

The high level of play from the rest of the team allowed Jakes to put up those numbers, he said.

“I give credit to the o-line and receivers, and I give credit to the coaches,” Jakes said. “They prepared me all week.

“(Quarterbacks) Coach (Nick) Sheridan and Coach T, we’re just talking every play about what we’re going to do here, what we’re going to do there, and what we’re going to do there,” Jakes said.

Junior Keshawn Simpson got the start at running back for WKU but shared carries with junior Antonio Andrews and freshman Leon Allen.

The three backs had the vast majority of WKU’s 244 total rushing yards – Simpson had 60, Allen led the group with 93, and Andrews posted 39.

Andrews had an impact on offense all over the field. He had an additional 59 yards from four catches and had a 70-yard punt return for a touchdown in the first quarter.

The Topper defense had a dominant night as well, holding APSU to 154 total yards, including just 11 yards through the air, and 10 points.

Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson had five tackles, including two and a half for a loss, and sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling added five tackles and one interception to lead the defense.

Dowling, a Florida transfer, finally saw action for the Toppers in a regular season game after sitting out last year.

The former Rivals.com four-star recruit said the way he and the rest of the team stepped their level of play up in the offseason made this game a good way to start his WKU career.

“I’ve got a good team behind me, and with the offense playing as good as they did because they’ve been working as hard as they have been, it’s just a lot easier to go out there and have fun,” Dowling said.

About the only weak point in WKU’s game on Saturday was at kicker. The Toppers missed all three field goals they attempted and rotated between kickers on the roster.

A rainy afternoon and muggy evening couldn’t stop WKU fans from showing up to the first game of the year. A crowd of 16,327 came out to watch the game, according to numbers released by the school.

Fans who showed up also had the chance to see Olympic gold medalist Claire Donahue. The WKU graduate was recognized at midfield after the first quarter and received a standing ovation from the crowd.

The Toppers cruised to a win on Saturday but won’t have time to celebrate. The team will travel to Alabama next weekend to take on the defending national champions.

Taggart said he expects his team to continue to improve leading up to the game.

“We know we can have a good defense,” he said. “Our defense can play better than they played tonight.

“We still got a lot of work done but we still took care of business, did what we were supposed to do, and now we’ve got to keep building on the things that we talk about needing to get better at.”