‘Fired up’ WKU team looks for milestone win over Kentucky

WKU expects to sign at least 13 verbal commits and possibly a few other players during Wednesday’s 2012 National Signing Day.

Brad Stephens

There will be no shortage of motivation for WKU Thursday against Kentucky.

The Toppers will be facing an in-state rival from the powerhouse Southeastern Conference that beat them handily one year ago and will be playing on national television at L.P. Field in Nashville on college football’s Opening Day.

When asked about the game at WKU’s Media Day, senior defensive end Jared Clendenin summed up the emotions of the entire program.

“If you aren’t fired up about this one, then you are not supposed to be playing,” Clendenin said. “That’s pretty self-explanatory. We’re going to be fired up.”

The Toppers will be looking to avenge a 63-28 blowout loss to the Wildcats last year in Lexington.

Things started off well for WKU in that meeting, as then-junior running back Bobby Rainey gave WKU a 7-0 lead one minute into the game with a 59-yard touchdown run.

But UK answered right back with 35 consecutive points, putting the game out of reach.

The WKU defense found no answer for UK wide receiver Randall Cobb, who totaled 207 all-purpose yards, threw one touchdown, and tallied both a rushing and punt return score.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said he was happy not to have to game-plan for Cobb this season, as Cobb graduated and was drafted by the NFL’s Green Bay Packers, but added that the defense must perform better no matter what skill players UK puts on the field.

“It’s great not to have to go against someone like that, but then again, they’re in the SEC, so I’m sure they have somebody else ready to do the same thing Randall did,” Taggart said. “More importantly, we’ve got to tackle, tackle, tackle and not give up big plays.”

WKU defense will have to handle UK’s new quarterback, junior Morgan Newton, without junior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen, who was suspended for Thursday’s game for violation of team rules.

Meanwhile, the Topper offense must handle a Wildcat defense playing under new defensive coordinator Rick Minter.

But Rainey said he still expects UK to take the same defensive approach as last year, positioning players near the line of scrimmage to bottle up the WKU rushing attack.

“They’re going to pack the box, and we expect that to happen,” Rainey said. “We just have to execute and do a better job of getting the ball to the receivers to open it up.”

Taggart said he has “no doubt” that junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes and a young group of receivers can take advantage of one-on-one opportunities provided by a Wildcat defense focused on stopping Rainey.

“That’s why those guys came here — to play football,” Taggart said. “Those guys are on scholarship too, and if those guys can’t do that, then we can’t play offense.”

 If the Toppers are able to come away victorious it will be the program’s first-ever win not just against UK, but also against the SEC.

Rainey said he anticipates that a win over the Wildcats would be a milestone moment for the program.

“It would be the best win since I’ve been here at Western, or even in Western history,” Rainey said. “With them being an SEC team, and Western beating them, that would be huge for the program.”