COLUMN: For WKU to win, Jakes has to step up

Cole Claybourn

Kawaun Jakes has taken his fair share of criticism in his three years as WKU’s starting quarterback. That’s really no secret.

His critics got what they wanted last game when redshirt freshman Brandon Doughty started against Indiana State, only to leave three plays later with a torn anterior cruciate ligament that will sideline him for the remainder of the season.

The spotlight on Jakes is now even brighter as he remains the only logical option for WKU at quarterback.

Jakes has struggled in his time as a starter, especially this season. That’s also no secret. 

His six interceptions lead the Sun Belt Conference and tie his total from the entire 2010 season. His 93.6 passer rating ranks last in the conference, and he carries a 2-20 record as a starter on his shoulders.

But the cushion that was there before with Doughty as the backup is now gone. If Jakes’ struggles continue, so will WKU. Its goals of a Sun Belt championship could go by the wayside.

It’s time now for Jakes to step up, because he’s really all WKU has at quarterback now.

He’s already gotten started during the bye week, embracing the idea that he needs to be more of a leader.

“Having everybody upbeat,” Jakes said, talking about what he’s done to be more of a leader in practice. “It’s an off week so some people probably don’t want to practice. Just having everybody want to be out here and want to go through practice.”

It’s easy to look back as Jakes’ career up to this point and convince yourself that Jakes might not have it in him to be the leader that WKU needs him to be.

But he’s shown flashes of success, albeit few and far between.

In his first career start against Navy, Jakes went 22-for-28 for 276 yards and two touchdowns.

In WKU’s 54-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette last season, Jakes completed 18-of-22 passes for a career-high 262 passing yards en route to being named the Sun Belt Offensive Player of the Week.

Against Indiana State two weeks ago, Jakes went 22-for-30 with 237 yards and two touchdowns and an interception.

The talent and the ability is there. It just hasn’t been there consistently. That’s what needs to change.

Jakes knows it.

“I still have my own confidence. I never just fall down and don’t believe in myself,” Jakes said. “I’m just trying to get better.”

If Jakes doesn’t perform, WKU would have to relinquish freshman James Mauro’s redshirt year in order to provide a new look to the offense.

At this point, WKU can’t really afford to do that.

Taggart said before the season that Jakes needed to become more of a weapon. He’s also said that Jakes has always been a leader in practice, but for whatever reason, has trouble translating that to gamedays.

WKU needs all of that to change now more than ever.