Toppers not overlooking Southern Mississippi

Toppers defensive back Kareem Peterson (14) and defensive back Kiante Young (29) celebrate after a play during the WKU-UK football game in Lexington on Saturday, Sept. 15, 2012. 

Lucas Aulbach

Southern Mississippi doesn’t have the same kind of name recognition as WKU’s last two opponents, Alabama and Kentucky, but that doesn’t mean the Toppers are taking the Golden Eagles lightly, junior linebacker Xavius Boyd said.

WKU is preparing for the defending Conference-USA champions with the same focus as it had before facing the two SEC schools, Boyd said.

“We try and take the same approach every week, as far as what team we play,” Boyd said. “We don’t look at any team different. You never know what happens — there’s a lot of upsets that go on now days.”

The Toppers will face USM at 6 p.m. Saturday at Smith Stadium.

Boyd knows something about upsets. The Toppers are coming off of one of the biggest wins in school history, a 32-31 overtime win over Kentucky.

Boyd led underdog WKU in tackles that night with 10 and is the team leader in tackles this season so far with 23.

He said he expects the team to step up against the Golden Eagles like they did against the Wildcats.

“It’s not the first big game we’ve won,” Boyd said. “It’s one of the biggest games we’ve won, but we’re still going to come out here and put the work in for the next game.”

WKU improved to 2-1 with the win over Kentucky, the first time they’ve gotten off to a winning start through three games since 2007.

The Toppers started 3-1 that season, and junior defensive back Brett Harrington said the Toppers understand starting this season with another win could be crucial to their potential bowl hopes later this year.

“It’s just a respect thing,” he said. “Nobody’s going to give us anything anymore. They know Western Kentucky is coming up, so it’s just better for us to go 3-1 than 2-2.”

The Golden Eagles are the last non-conference opponent on WKU’s schedule and the Toppers might not face another team quite like them this season.

USM, famous for being alma mater of NFL MVP quarterback Brett Favre, is still working on its current quarterback situation.

Junior Chris Campbell, a more conventional in-the-pocket quarterback, got the start for the Golden Eagles in their season-opener while freshman Anthony Alford, who is more prone to run the ball, started the next game. Both saw time in each of USM’s first two games.

“One guy runs the ball, and the other one doesn’t,” Willie Taggart said, summing it up on Monday. “It is what it is, and our guys have got to do a great job of watching film and studying their opponents and understanding what they’re doing when certain guys are in the game.”

The Toppers recorded four interceptions last Saturday in their big win.

Despite the magnitude of the Kentucky win, Taggart said he doesn’t expect his team to lose focus as they prepare for USM.

“There’s still a long ways to go,” he said. “We’ve got nine ballgames left. This is a huge one for us. It’s been huge from day one.”

A 3-1 start to begin conference play would be ideal for the Toppers, and Taggart said he thinks his team can pull it off.

“We still want to see how good we can be — we haven’t shown that yet,” he said. “Last week wasn’t our best ballgame… That’s good to be in that situation right now.”