COLUMN: WKU needs to learn how to win, and do it fast

From left to right, Jamarcus Allen, Junior Defensive Lineman, Xavius Boyd, Sophomore Linebacker, and Ryan Beard, Senior Defensive Back look on dejectedly as WKU loses to Indiana State, 44-16.

Cole Claybourn

When asked what went wrong in Saturday’s 44-16 blowout loss to Indiana State, Head Coach Willie Taggart simply said: “Everything.”

Now WKU has a bigger problem on its hands. It doesn’t know how to win, and hasn’t done so at home in 17 straight tries.

“That’s something we’re trying to teach (the players),” Taggart said. “We’ve got to keep working until we learn how to win.”

But can you really teach a team how to win? 

The only way to learn is to just do it, and Saturday’s game against Football Bowl Championship Subdivision opponent Indiana State was WKU’s best chance.

It was the game that when you looked at the schedule you said, “Well at least WKU will win one this year.” 

Instead, the Toppers watched Indiana State quarterback Ronnie Fouch torch their defense for 227 yards and three touchdowns, while running back Shakir Bell ran for 221 yards and two touchdowns. 

The offensive line was manhandled the entire game. Sure, senior running back Bobby Rainey eclipsed 100 yards for the eighth straight game, but most of that came in the fourth quarter.

Play after play, Indiana State defenders ran through the offensive line like a knife through butter..

On top of that, WKU continued to make fundamental mistakes. The Toppers fumbled the ball four times throughout the game.

“That’s kind of what happens with a team that hasn’t won in a while,” Taggart said. “We have to learn how to deal with those situations in a positive way. We’ve got to find some way to keep that positive attitude around our football team, because there’s a lot of negative around it. 

“When there’s negative around it, it’s hard to do anything.”

So how do players learn how to win? Taggart provided an answer, but nothing concrete.

“We just have to do things better than what we’re doing,” he said. “The thing that’s hurting us is the fundamental part. And again, not tackling and turning the ball over — those things are killing us. We’ve got to get better at that.”

At the end of the day, it’s all a mental thing. 

Right now, WKU has a mental block the size of the Hoover Dam that’s preventing them from winning. The players simply aren’t used to it. The coaches aren’t used to it. 

It’s why the Toppers lost four games in the fourth quarter last season. 

This type of loss is one that can really demoralize a team — and its fans — for a whole season. Hope can be lost. Excitement can be thrown out the door. 

If that happens, Taggart wouldn’t be surprised one bit.

“We felt like this was a game to win and we wanted to win at home,” Taggart said. “We need to win. Our fans deserve that. I appreciate them all showing up. If they decide not to come, I can understand that too.”

This is arguably a new low for WKU football. 

Suddenly, a loss in 2009 to FCS opponent Central Arkansas doesn’t look so bad. After all, that team was ranked, and this Indiana State team was far from that.

WKU now has a bye week that really couldn’t come at a better time.

They’ll have plenty of time to practice, where Taggart has been pretty pleased with the effort. The only problem is that whatever strides are made in practice aren’t translating to the field.

And despite how much practice gets put toward learning how to win, it won’t matter if WKU can’t figure out some way to translate that to the field.

This was the game to do that, and it didn’t happen. Now, the rest of the season is looking like a steep uphill climb.