WKU to face ‘minor league NFL team’ LSU

Freshman tight end Mitchell Henry grabs a pass in the first quarter for a first down against FIU at Smith Stadium.

Brad Stephens

A 10-9 win over Florida International Saturday gave WKU its fifth consecutive win.

What stands in the way of the Toppers stretching that streak to six?

Just dozens of future NFL players, 2007 national championship-winning Head Coach Les Miles and 92,400 fans that have seen their home team go 44-1 in Saturday night home games since 2002.

That’s what WKU will be facing when it walks into Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La., at 6 p.m. Saturday to take on Louisiana State, the nation’s No. 1 team.

Head Coach Willie Taggart referred to the Tigers Monday as “that minor league NFL team we’re playing this week.”

“It’s not fair that we have to play an NFL team. I thought this was college football,” Taggart said smiling. “But it’s a great opportunity for our football program and for our guys to go up and see how far we are from being the No. 1 team in the country.”

LSU secured its No. 1 ranking Saturday night with a 9-6 overtime road victory over then-No. 2 Alabama.

In that game the Tigers came away with two drive-killing fourth quarter interceptions and held the Crimson Tide scoreless on their lone overtime possession before kicker Drew Alleman sent LSU back home a winner with a 25-yard field goal.

It was another notable win for the Tigers, who have also knocked off Oregon, West Virginia, Florida and Auburn this year.

Taggart said LSU’s quality of talent across its entire roster separates the Tigers from other teams it’s played.

“A guy can go down and then someone can come in,” he said. “If they didn’t have (different) numbers on, you couldn’t tell the difference.”

Though WKU is currently in the thick of the Sun Belt Conference championship race with a 5-1 league record, Taggart said he won’t be looking to prevent injury Saturday by resting starters.

“That’s not football. That’s not competitive,” he said. “That’s basically saying you don’t have a chance and you might as well not play.” 

Taggart said he had encouraged the Toppers to avoid listening to people telling the team to just make it out of Tiger Stadium alive — including his own mother.

“I told my mom I wasn’t talking to her this week because I’m sure she’ll tell me that too,” he said. “I’ll talk to her after the game.”

Saturday will be the first meeting between the two schools and the first time ever WKU has faced a Football Bowl Subdivision No. 1 team.

The Toppers have also never defeated a Southeastern Conference opponent. 

Junior tight end Jack Doyle said he’s fine if no one gives WKU, currently 41-point underdogs, a chance to beat the Tigers.

“Of course no one’s going to believe that,” Doyle said. “They can say what they want, but when it comes down to it, I’m 21 years old, they’re 21 years old, they grew up just like I did. Why not just go play football with them?”