Forward motion: Spring game a stepping stone for Tops

Red team wide receiver Neil Wilson and white team defensive back Kareem Peterson dive and miss a pass Saturday afternoon at the Red and White spring game in Houchens-Smith Stadium. The team white team won, 27-11.

Emily Patton

It was a spring game that left Head Coach Willie Taggart hopeful for what’s to come.

Last Saturday’s red-white game capped off a four-week spring football season for the Toppers that began on March 21.

“We are 10 times better than we were last spring,” Taggart said. “I thought that throughout this whole spring, not just this game, they practiced with a purpose.”

The white team finished on top of the red with a 27-11 victory, and Taggart said he believes the white team represented what the whole team can become.

“One sideline was upbeat and ready to go the entire game,” Taggart said. “The other sideline wasn’t. I think that is a big part of it that gets our guys down. The red team was more like how we used to be. The white team was more where we are trying to go.

“Just trying to teach those guys that you can’t get down, you got to keep coming, keep playing, keep fighting.”

The spring game revealed an offensive passing game that had been quiet last season.

Before spring began, Taggart said the quarterback position was an open competition for freshman redshirt Brandon Doughty and junior Kawaun Jakes.

Each player’s leadership abilities and knowledge of the offense could get either of them the position, Taggart said.

But Jakes put a foot in front of the competition at the spring game, where he earned the Most Valuable Player award.

He went 10-of-16, passing for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while Doughty went 6-of-23 for 72 yards and a touchdown.

“He stepped up, and that’s what we expect from our quarterback to do for us,” Taggart said. “I thought from a leadership standpoint, he did some really good things of building his teammates up.

“In the huddle you can constantly hear him telling guys, ‘Let’s go, good job,’ celebrating with them and just a totally different person than what he’s been.”

After an injury to sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal early this season, the wide receiver position looked depleted.

But Jakes found a way to spread the ball to six different receivers.

“The scheme we had going in, they were with it,” Jakes said. “The receivers were going no-huddle, up-tempo, trying to get the defense tired. They were with it, and it paid off.”

The ground game for the Toppers also was surprising, with senior running back Bobby Rainey not leading in rushing yards.

Instead, it was sophomore Keshawn Simpson that took over the honor with 52 rushing yards and one touchdown.

“Overall, I think we all worked hard, all the running backs,” Simpson said. “Together I think we should take some of the pressure off of Bobby so he won’t get as much hits next year.”

Besides discovering the offensive potential, Taggart said he also found some true supporters of WKU football.

An estimated 1,250 fans braved the temperatures in the mid-40s and cloudy skies to watch the spring game.

Although Taggart had set the goal of having 15,000 fans attend, he said he’s still hopeful that WKU will eventually become the first Sun Belt Conference school to do so.

“We are going to get there,” he said. “You have to start somewhere. Mother Nature — you can’t do anything about that. But I know this for a fact. If it were a sunny day out there, we would have gotten 15,000 fans out there. No doubt about it.”

With the spring season behind the Toppers now, Jakes said the team is already looking toward the fall.

WKU’s 2011 season opens against Kentucky at L.P. Field in Nashville on Sept. 1.

“We aren’t near where we want to be,” Jakes said. “We have the summer offseason coming up. I told the dudes to just come in and work.”