WKU falls 14-3 to UK despite strong defense

WKU’s defense held UK to less than 50 first half yards Thursday night in the teams’ season opener at L.P. Field in Nashville.

Brad Stephens

NASHVILLE — Head Coach Willie Taggart saw his WKU defense dominate Kentucky Thursday night at L.P. Field in Nashville.

The Toppers held the Wildcats to 74 yards of offense through three quarters, forced UK junior quarterback Morgan Newton to throw three interceptions and allowed them to convert just three times on third down.

But everything the defense did, the offense didn’t.

Senior running back Bobby Rainey accumulated 105 yards, but averaged less than four yards a carry, down a full yard from his 2010 average.

And the passing game never got off the ground, as junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes finished just 9-of-27 for 93 yards with four interceptions.

As the offense wasted a sterling performance by the WKU defense, Taggart said it would be a loss his team would regret.

“We let one get away,” Taggart bluntly said following the 14-3 loss.

That may not have been the case had the Toppers capitalized on early opportunities.

Sophomore safety Vince Williams picked off a Newton pass in the first quarter to set the Toppers up at the Wildcats 32-yard-line.

But a delay of game penalty on Jakes stalled the drive, and WKU had to settle for a 41-yard field goal from senior kicker Casey Tinius.

Then in the second quarter WKU had a chance to go up two scores when junior tight end Jack Doyle streaked into the end zone, wide open by more than 10 yards in all directions. 

But Jakes overshot Doyle, and Tinius missed a 34-yard field goal later in the series.

A game that should’ve been 10-0 in favor of WKU remained 3-0.

“He missed some throws, especially early,” Taggart said of Jakes. “We probably should’ve done a better job of getting him in a rhythm early in the game instead of throwing the ball deep.

“He missed Jack who was wide open. That was just a flat out miss.”

The Wildcats finally got a break later in the quarter when Jakes bounced a pass off the shoulder pads of sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones, who was facing the wrong direction.

UK senior safety Winston Guy reacted to the carom, diving to make an interception.

Three plays later, Wildcat freshman running back Josh Clemons scampered 14 yards for a touchdown to put his team up, 7-3.

That was all UK needed to win.

A fourth quarter touchdown pass from Newton to receiver La’Rod King, plus two late interceptions thrown by Jakes, solidified the outcome.

Taggart lamented the team’s missed opportunities following the game.

“Things went as planned — keeping it close into the second half and having an opportunity to win,” Taggart said. “Things went that way for a while and we didn’t capitalize on some great field position.”

There were some Toppers that had career games despite the losing effort.

Sophomore punter Hendrix Brakefield gave the WKU defense wiggle room throughout the game with eight punts for an average of 44.6 yards.

Sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson, who made his first career start, led the Toppers with 12 tackles. Jackson, who said earlier in the week that going against Southeastern Conference competition such as Kentucky motivated him, said he felt the teams were on an even playing field Thursday.

“It was just another football game. I told my defensive guys we’re not going to bow down any more,” Jackson said. “I told my guys that everybody else was picking on us because we haven’t had a winning record.

“I really can’t hang my head. We lost by 11 points to an SEC team that’s supposed to be a good team, so I really can’t be mad.”

While Jackson said he wasn’t hanging his head, Rainey said there is plenty of room for improvement on his side of the ball.

WKU takes the field again Saturday against Navy. Rainey said the offense can’t afford another lackluster performance then.

“Our defense was amazing,” Rainey said. “And we’ve got to help the defense out.”