No. 1 LSU takes over in second half, beats WKU 42-9

WKU tight end Jack Doyle (82) reaches to tackle LSU safety Brandon Taylor (82) after Taylor intercepted a pass by WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes during the Hilltoppers’ 42-9 loss to the Tigers Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Brad Stephens

BATON ROUGE, La.  For one half at Tiger Stadium, WKU hung with the nation’s No. 1 team.

The Toppers forced a 7-7 tie against No. 1 Louisiana State in the second quarter and were down just 14-7 at halftime.

But the Tigers, 41-point favorites coming into the game, ran away from the Toppers in the second half and scored a commanding 42-9 victory.

The loss snapped a five-game winning streak for WKU (5-5), while LSU is off to its first 10-0 start since 1958.

“We didn’t make a lot of mistakes in the first half, and in the second half we made too many,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “We came into the game saying we couldn’t do that against the No. 1 team. We had to play a perfect ballgame and we didn’t.”

LSU struck first on a 59-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Jordan Jefferson to wide receiver Reuben Randle.

But the stadium known as “Death Valley” fell silent in the first quarter when sophomore running back Keshawn Simpson fell forward for a two-yard touchdown run, his first career score.

It was also the first first-quarter touchdown surrendered by LSU all season.

Senior kicker Casey Tinius made the extra point to tie the game at seven.

WKU immediately got another chance to score when sophomore defensive back Vince Williams recovered LSU wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.’s fumble on the ensuing kickoff, giving the Toppers the ball at the Tiger 44 yard-line.

But two incompletions thrown by junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes and an illegal substitution penalty stalled the drive and forced WKU to punt.

Two LSU drives later, the Tigers scored on a one-yard touchdown run by fullback Kenny Hilliard, taking a 14-7 lead.

LSU didn’t give up the lead for the rest of the game.

WKU scored just seven points in the first half despite holding the ball for 20:01 of game time.

Taggart said the team’s offensive plan throughout the game was the same ball control-oriented plan as every other game: feed the ball to senior running back Bobby Rainey (13 rushes, 36 yards in the first half) and junior tight end Jack Doyle (five catches, 44 yards).

“That’s how we play ball,” Taggart said. “Offensively we didn’t change anything we did all year long… We felt like if we tried to change what we do we definitely wouldn’t have a chance in this ballgame.”

But the Tigers’ depth helped LSU take over in the third quarter.

Running back Alfred Blue, who didn’t have any rushing attempts in the first half, ran for 28 yards on the Tigers’ first drive in the second half.

Hilliard scored on another one-yard run to give LSU a 21-7 lead.

The Toppers cut the lead to 12 on the Tigers’ next drive by forcing an intentional grounding flag in the LSU end zone on Jefferson.

But Blue ran for a 45-yard touchdown on LSU’s next series to push the lead to three scores.

Taggart said the Tigers’ depth, as evidenced in backups like Blue, was a factor in his team’s loss.

“When they bring a new guy in, only the number is different,” he said. “They have the same athletic ability.”

Blue finished with 119 yards and two touchdowns on nine carries, all in the second half, on a WKU defense which Taggart said was geared toward stopping the run rather than the pass.

“If there’s any weak link to LSU, it would be the pass game,” he said. “It’s not as stellar as their run game so we had to get guys in there to try and stop the run.”

The Tigers finished with 291 rushing yards and 183 passing yards against defensive coordinator Lance Guidry’s WKU defense.

Guidry was coaching Saturday after being arrested in Baton Rouge early Saturday morning for driving while intoxicated.

Neither Taggart nor Athletic Director Ross Bjork provided comment on details of the situation, but Bjork said the university would release more information in the coming days.

On the positive side for WKU, senior running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 85 yards, passing Adrian Peterson on the NCAA’s all-time rushing list.

The Toppers go back to Sun Belt Conference play when they travel to Denton, Texas next Saturday to play league foe North Texas.

Taggart said he took solace in the fact WKU scored more points (nine) against No. 1 LSU than then-No. 2 Alabama did the week before, but was still disappointed with the final outcome.

“You only get one opportunity to play the No. 1 team in the country,” he said. “For whatever reason we just didn’t execute as well in the second half.”