WKU looking to make big plays, ‘jump start’ offense against FAU

Wide receiver Marcus Vasquez, here diving for a catch last season against North Texas, is the only actice receiver returning to the team to have caught double double digit passes last season.

Zach Greenwell

When freshman cornerback Tyree Robinson dropped a sure interception in the first quarter against North Texas last Saturday, it agonized Head Coach Willie Taggart.

But Taggart said he worried most that the lost opportunity didn’t cause the Toppers the same pain.

“That would have just electrified the whole crowd and sideline — turning point of the game,” Taggart said. “There are things like that from an emotional standpoint that our guys don’t understand.”

WKU (1-7, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) will try to make those big plays when it hosts Florida Atlantic at 3:30 p.m. Saturday.

There were plenty of pivotal moments when WKU knocked off Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago, starting with sophomore defensive end Jamarcus Allen’s 69-yard fumble return.

From there, junior cornerback Derrius Brooks returned an interception, freshman tight end Demetrius Coley hauled in a 43-yard touchdown catch, and freshman running back Antonio Andrews broke off a 30-yard touchdown run.

Sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez said the common theme of all of those plays was that they ignited the WKU sideline.

“That big play jump starts the offense,” Vasquez said. “It gets the offense running, it gets us in a rhythm, and it gets us on edge. Everybody wants to make big plays once one person does, so that helps us out a lot. We need that.”

Taggart pointed at Vasquez and the rest of the receivers’ poor route-running as a main reason for the North Texas loss.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey was actually the team’s leading receiver in the game with 57 yards. Vasquez and freshman Willie McNeal, WKU’s two most consistent receivers this season, had just 28 receiving yards combined.

“We didn’t have the best game, but it was a bump in the road,” Vasquez said. “That’s something we have to stress in practice this week — catching everything and running good routes.”

Vasquez said it’s hard to blame sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes for the letdown because Jakes would have “found the receivers if they were open.”

Jakes said learning Taggart’s West Coast offense is still a work-in-progress for the Toppers, and he knows part of his job as quarterback is to help the receivers make that transition.

“You try to encourage them,” Jakes said. “You know, ‘You can make that catch, and I can make that throw.’ We’re just trying to be positive right now.”

FAU (2-5, 1-3 Sun Belt) comes to town fresh off a 21-9 win over Florida International, but the Owls lost five straight games before that.

That should mean the Toppers have a fighting chance Saturday, but Taggart said execution will be the key.

“We’ve just got to make those plays because when we do, good things happen for us,” Taggart said. “We’re still not good enough to let those plays get by us right now.”

Taggart said this week has been each receiver’s best shot to make an impression because there were so many missed chances a week ago.

That’s led to a more fun and competitive atmosphere in practice, like it was before the Lafayette win, Vasquez said.

And that’s the way WKU wants it.

“I think we just came out and didn’t stress too much that week,” Vasquez said. “This week, we’re trying to loosen up and have fun at practice. That’ll eventually show in a game.”