Notebook: Taggart says Jakes will be “more of a weapon”

Brad Stephens

Kawaun Jakes has shown resiliency when it comes to his role as WKU quarterback.

After taking the job from Brandon Smith in 2009 as a freshman, he held off transfer Matt Pelesasa and true freshman Brandon Doughty in 2010 fall camps, and then defeated Doughty again in 2011 spring practice.

Now that the job is squarely in Jakes’ hands, Head Coach Willie Taggart said during Monday’s Sun Belt Conference Media Day that the junior quarterback will assume a larger role in the offense.

“Last year you saw a quarterback that managed our offense,” Taggart. “I think this year you’re going to see that position become more of a weapon for us.”

Jakes went 149 of 291 for 1,680 yards and 10 touchdowns through the air in 2010 and ran for 210 yards with four touchdowns.

But he took a back seat to then-junior running Bobby Rainey in Taggart’s offense.

Rainey led the Football Bowl Subdivision with 340 carries, gaining 1,649 yards and scoring 15 touchdowns.

But Taggart said he’s seen Jakes start to lead the team on and off the field.

“He’s starting to do the things it takes to be a Division I quarterback,” Taggart said. “For me, that’s not just the physical tools, it’s the things off the field.

“I just feel like that position is like the head coach on the football team. He’s starting to take more of that leadership role and holding guys accountable, which we needed from Kawaun last year.”

Finding the targets

Jakes has solidified the quarterback spot, but there are question marks surrounding the receivers to whom he’ll throw.

Willie McNeal led the Toppers with 360 receiving yards as a freshman in 2010, but will miss the 2011 season with a torn anterior cruciate ligament sustained in spring practice.

Marcus Vazquez, who missed the last three games of 2010 with a broken collarbone, will likely be WKU’s No. 1 option at wide receiver.

The junior from Chula Vista, Calif., has 508 career receiving yards and has caught five touchdowns.

Taggart said junior Dexter Haynes and redshirt freshman Rico Brown and Joel German will also see significant playing time at the position.

Haynes caught eight passes in 2010 for 200 yards and two touchdowns.

Brown, a former Madison Southern High School standout, and German have yet to see action at WKU.

“Some of those guys haven’t played on the field yet but they’ve done a lot of good things for us in practice that have us feeling really good about them,” Taggart said.

Guidry brings the juice

“Juice” was a buzzword for Taggart when talking about bringing energy to a struggling WKU program during the 2010 season.

He used the phrase Monday when talking about the aggressive attitude new coordinator Lance Guidry has brought to the defensive side of the ball.

“You see a lot more energy over there, and that’s really a reflection of Coach Guidry, and his background and how he is,” Taggart said. “Every time you see him he’s full of energy and juice, and that’s what you see out of our defense.”

Guidry came to WKU from Miami (Ohio) where he served as the Redhawks’ defensive backs coach for the last two seasons.

He also coached Miami in an interim role to a 35-31 win over Middle Tennessee in the 2011 Bowl.

Guidry is replacing Clint Bowen, who came to WKU from Kansas to assume the defensive coordinator role but left this past offseason to fill the same position for Sun Belt foe North Texas.

Last year’s Topper defense led the conference in total defense and passing defense.

WKU’s leading returning tacklers are senior safety Ryan Beard (71) junior defensive end Quanterus Smith (47) and sophomore safety Kiante Young (45).

Taggart, Rainey ready for Kentucky

Perhaps WKU’s most anticipated game in 2011 will be a season-opening neutral site tilt with in-state rival Kentucky on Sept. 1 at LP Field in Nashville.

September’s matchup will mark the second meeting of a four-game series that runs through the 2013 season.

The Toppers will be looking for their first victory over a Southeastern Conference team and will also be trying to earn some payback for a 63-28 defeat at the hands of the Wildcats last season at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington.

In that game, WKU broke out to a quick 7-0 lead after Rainey scampered for a 59-yard touchdown run one minute into the game.

But Kentucky assumed control, scoring the next 35 points and putting the game out of reach by the second quarter.

Taggart said his team learned from the loss in Lexington.

“When we made a couple of mistakes, we couldn’t rebound from it early,” Taggart said. “And then defensively, I thought we played afraid early in the game. And that happens when you play an SEC school.

“But now we’re more familiar with what we do and have a lot of confidence.”

Rainey said the Toppers have confidence because they “know we can play with (Kentucky).”

“We just have to learn how to finish,” Rainey said. “I’m very excited. I love playing against UK.”