WKU rolls to win over Southern Mississippi

Junior Antonio Andrews carries the ball down the sideline during the first half of Saturday’s game against Southern Miss at Smith Stadium. The Toppers led 21-3 at the end of the half.

Lucas Aulbach

With the 1992 and 2002 WKU football teams in the stands, the Toppers put on a performance on the field on Saturday that didn’t disappoint.

WKU rolled to a 42-17 win over Southern Mississippi at Smith Stadium, improving to 3-1 on the season, the best start for the school since 2007.

Topper fans worried about a letdown after last weekend’s big win at Kentucky can breathe easy after the win.

“Last week was a big-time win over an in-state rival in Kentucky and we got the monkey off of our back, but this week, this win means a lot more to the fans,” junior running back Antonio Andrews said. Not often do we come home and play for the crowd and put on a great show that they deserve.

“We came out here and played as a team together. We’re just doing this to give Bowling Green some life.”

The Toppers looked like the better team from the opening snap. They led 14-0 after the first quarter and 21-3 at halftime before adding another 21 points in the third quarter.

Andrews was the centerpiece of the offense again. He had 136 yards and one touchdown on 15 rushes as well as 74 yards and a touchdown through the air.

He wasn’t WKU’s only threat on the ground, though. With junior Keshawn Simpson out with a knee injury, freshman Leon Allen took several carries and ended up contributing 132 yards and a touchdown.

It was the 28th time in school history that two WKU players have rushed for over 100 yards in a game and the first since 2008.

Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes was on point as well, finishing 12-of-18 for 172 yards and three touchdowns.

The Golden Eagles used three quarterbacks in the game and the Topper defense shut them all down.

Junior Chris Campbell went 2-5 for 15 yards before leaving with a neck stinger in the second quarter. His replacement, freshman Anthony Alford, completed two passes for 14 yards.

Freshman quarterback Ricky Lloyd also saw some action towards the end of the game, going 4-5 for 72 yards and a touchdown, though he lost the ball on a fumble in the last minute of the game.

Coach Willie Taggart said it was the best game of the season for the Toppers thus far.

“This was our best performance of the year but we’re still not where we’re capable of being,” he said. “There’s still a lot of little mistakes here and there that we’ve got to correct.”

USM dropped to 0-3 with the loss, the first time the school has gotten off to such a start since 1976.

The lone low point of the night for WKU came on the Golden Eagles’ only touchdown, where sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling was ejected for a late hit on a USM receiver.

Sun Belt Conference rules require an ejected player to sit out the next game. An appeal may be on the way, but it looks as if the Toppers will be without Dowling when they take on Arkansas State next weekend.

WKU had some special guests in the audience. In addition to the 1992 and 2002 teams, former coach Jack Harbaugh was in the stands with his wife, Jackie.

Before the game, the two were recognized at midfield as the club section of Smith Stadium was named the Jack & Jackie Harbaugh Stadium Club.

“I get emotional whenever I talk about Coach,” Taggart said about his former head coach. “He’s done so much for me and he’s done so much for our university. He’s just a great person, a great guy.

“For him to get recognized today, him and his wife, is something that needed to be done and was overdue. It was great for it to happen in an environment like we had today and it was great for our guys to go out and play the way they did.”

If that wasn’t enough, Smith Stadium filled up with 23,252 fans in attendance, the highest total in school history.

Senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen said it was good to see so many fans in the seats.

“It was a good feeling,” he said “It was a lot of love that I wasn’t used to seeing when I first got here.”

It was the last non-conference game for the Toppers, and they looked like a team that can contend for a Sun Belt title this year.

WKU will kick off its Sun Belt schedule next Saturday against Arkansas State in Jonesboro, Ark.

Taggart likened the Arkansas State game as the first regular-season game of WKU’s schedule.

“We had a pretty good preseason, now the real season starts,” he said. “We’ve got to be locked in. Anyone in this conference can win. It’s going to be a big-time eight weeks for us starting next week.”