Taggart asks for more enthuisasm from defense

Lucas Aulbach

While the rest of the state had its eyes fixed on basketball, the Toppers had their first full-on football scrimmage on Saturday.

WKU hit the field for a little more than two hours on Saturday afternoon, and the results had Head Coach Willie Taggart looking for answers from his defense.

“I thought our offense came out ready to play. The defense was a little lethargic,” he said. “I don’t think they had the energy they’d been having this entire spring coming out.”

The Topper quarterbacks had a regular duel under center.

Senior Kawaun Jakes completed 9 of 17 passes for 119 yards and a touchdown while redshirt freshman James Mauro completed 10 of 17 for 133 yards and a touchdown.

Junior defensive back Arius Wright, who had one interception, said the energy just wasn’t there for the defense.

“We didn’t really play with too much enthusiasm,” Wright said. “We didn’t play with too much energy. We’re normally a high-energy defense — flying around, not letting the offense break tackles and all of that stuff. So as a defense, I’d say we didn’t play to the best of our abilities.”

Taggart said earlier this week that he was surprised with how physical the offense squad had been since starting to practice with shoulder pads last weekend. The defense usually dominates the first few practices with pads, he said.

Taggart said members of the defense need to motivate themselves to do better at practice.

“I told those guys when they go in, they have to ask themselves, what kind of practice did they have?” Taggart said. “Did they have a better practice than anybody else in the Sun Belt — or anybody in the country, for that case? I think they’ll be honest with themselves and see.”

He wasn’t critical of the entire team. Taggart said the WKU secondary has been playing “lights out,” and he gave credit to the team’s young group of running backs.

“Our young backs, I think they had a great day today,” he said. “I thought they ran hard and ran physical and broke a lot of tackles. I’m really pleased with the way those guys played today.”

Junior running back Keshawn Simpson, who had 11 carries for 68 yards, said the running backs are stepping up to replace Bobby Rainey and have been so successful by sharing the workload.

“We’re all different players,” Simpson said. “I’m more of the power back. John Evans is more speed and Antonio (Andrews) is a little bit of both. We got a little trio going on in there.”

Taggart’s lone criticism of the offense on Saturday was about their play in the red zone.

WKU finished last season with room for improvement in the red zone. The Toppers scored touchdowns on 63 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line in 2011.

“We still don’t have that killer instinct,” he said. “We drove the ball all the way down the field and we didn’t put it in the end zone. We’ve got to get that mentality where when we’ve got someone down, we have to step on their throat.”

WKU has seven more practices scheduled for this spring, finishing with the spring game at L.T. Smith Field on April 14.