Depth the difference in WKU’s loss at LSU

WKU linebacker Tye Golden (12) tackles LSU tight end Travis Dickson (41) during the Tigers’ 42-9 victory against the Hilltopers Saturday, Nov. 12, 2011, at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Brad Stephens

BATON ROUGE, La. — Head Coach Willie Taggart said all last week he wanted to compare how close his team was to the nation’s best, as WKU played No. 1 Louisiana State on Saturday. 

For one half his Toppers stood their ground with the 41-point favorite Tigers.

WKU forced a 7-7 tie with LSU in the first quarter and trailed 14-7 at halftime.

But the Tigers (10-0) finally pulled away in the second half, rotating players on and off the field to keep their starters fresh and wearing down the Toppers (5-5), en route to a 42-9 win.

“We have to get some depth, big time,” Taggart said Monday. “We get some war-daddies like they have, they had some war-daddies over there.”

Taggart said that depth played a big part in Saturday’s football game. 

WKU stuck to its typical ball-control offense on Saturday, relying on handoffs to senior running back Bobby Rainey and short passes to junior tight end Jack Doyle to keep LSU’s offense off the field.

The Toppers executed that plan well in the first half, going on four drives of eight or more plays and holding the ball for 20:01, compared to just 9:59 for the Tigers.

“You look at the first half — our guys went toe-to-toe with their guys,” Taggart said. “You couldn’t tell who was the No. 1 team there for awhile. Then depth played a factor in the second half.”

LSU Head Coach Les Miles went to his bench in the third quarter and inserted his third-string running back, sophomore Alfred Blue.

Blue proceeded to have the best statistical game of his career, running for 119 yards and two touchdowns on just nine carries.

His two touchdown runs, coming late in the third quarter and early in the fourth quarter, widened the Tigers’ lead from 21-9 to 35-9.

“Towards the end of the game you could kind of see how their depth and their rotation of a lot of good players kind of wore us down,” senior outside linebacker Ben Duvall said. “But overall we’re pretty proud of how we played, and I think in a few years when we face the No. 1 team we’ll have an even better showing.”

Saturday’s game marked the first time WKU had ever faced the nation’s No. 1 team, but it wasn’t the first time the Hilltoppers faced a traditional college football powerhouse.

Just last season, WKU opened the year with a 49-10 loss at Nebraska.

WKU employed a similar strategy in that game, giving the ball to Rainey repeatedly in an effort to control time of possession and keep the Cornhusker offense off the field.

But Doyle said the team, especially its offense, has improved dramatically between last year’s Nebraska loss and Saturday’s defeat at LSU.

“Nebraska was our first game ever running that offense, so just being in the system a little bit more and playing with each other [helped] and obviously we had some great freshmen making plays for us,” Doyle said.

Taggart’s question was answered Saturday: The Toppers were 33 points short of the nation’s best team.

He said the key to overcoming that deficit in future years starts with deepening WKU’s talent pool.

“We’ve got to continue to build our football team,” Taggart said, “and continue to try and build some depth with what we’re doing.”