WKU trying to get the juice flowing again

From left, WKU wide receivers Blake Ayers, Will Adams and Austin Baker sit in the locker room before the Toppers’ game against North Texas. WKU lost 33-6, and Head Coach Willie Taggart singled out his receiving corps as a group that didn’t perform.

Brad Stephens

The atmosphere was full of “juice” when WKU players and coaches walked off a plane and into the arms of hundreds of joyous fans at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport on Oct. 23.

Coach Willie Taggart and his Toppers had just pounded Louisiana-Lafayette to snap a 26-game losing streak, and the team was ready to contend for a Sun Belt championship.

Then last Saturday happened.

Against a North Texas team that played far above its 1-6 record, the Toppers were embarrassed in a 33-6 Homecoming loss.

WKU was in the game for the first half, trailing only 10-3 at halftime.

But the Toppers seemed to lose some of their energy as North Texas pulled away and dominated the second half.

Taggart called his team “emotionally drained,” and said “there wasn’t as much enthusiasm on the sideline.

“For a lot of people (the Louisana-Lafayette game) was one of the best and most emotional wins they’ve ever been in, then going into the next week was the perfect storm,” he said.

Senior guard Mychal Patterson said it seemed some of the team’s heads “were still in Lafayette.”

“I knew we just didn’t have it,” he said.

Meanwhile, senior linebacker Thomas Majors said he was especially disappointed with the Toppers’ defensive efforts.

The WKU defense allowed North Texas star running back Lance Dunbar to rush for 215 yards and three touchdowns, and also surrendered two key fourth down conversions to North Texas.

“Towards the end I think some people gave up and gave in,” Majors said. “That’s not what we’re about at WKU, and it was disappointing to me to see some teammates give up.”

In an effort to get the team re-energized, Taggart had the team practice at 6 a.m. Sunday morning.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey said the practice, which was mostly conditioning, served his coach’s purpose.

“We brought the practice on ourselves,” Rainey said. “So whatever we had to do, it needed to get done.”

Taggart agreed with Rainey, saying the early practice was what his Toppers needed.

“When it got tough on Saturday and we tried to reach down to grab something we didn’t have anything to grab,” Taggart said. “So the next day we practiced and talked to our team about what we need to do better.”

Besides improving the run defense, Taggart is also trying to tinker with WKU passing and kicking games.

After a lackluster performance against North Texas, he said the team’s receivers will have to fight to keep playing time.

He also has a kicking battle on his hands, as freshman Monte Merrick is looking to unseat struggling junior Casey Tinius.

Tinius, a Bowling Green native, is 4-for-10 on field goal attempts this season.

He was pulled Saturday after missing a field goal in favor of Merrick, who went on to put his two attempts through the uprights.

“Once we get to where we hold each other accountable and hold ourselves accountable for being the best at what we do, that’s when we’re going to be a really good football team,” Taggart said. “We’ve been able to learn from our mistakes, and we plan on doing that this week.”

WKU will take the Houchens-Smith Stadium field again this Saturday against Florida Atlantic.

Howard Schnellenberger’s Owls are just 2-5, but notched their first Sun Belt win of the season Saturday against Florida International.

“FAU is very talented and can beat any team they play on any given Saturday in the Sun Belt,” Taggart said. “Don’t let their record fool you.”

Senior guard Mychal Patterson said that starting with the FAU game, his team will re-focus for the rest of the season, and look to get the “juice” flowing again on the field.

“The only thing you can do is try to be a leader, he said. “We have to get the team together and let them know that we can’t be the hit-ees, we have to be the hitters.”