North Texas wins in Homecoming ’embarrassment’ for WKU

North Texas line backer Jeremy Phillips brings down WKU running back Bobby Rainey during Saturday’s Homecoming game. WKU lost 33-6.

Zach Greenwell

One of WKU’s two goals this season was to improve every game.

After the Toppers’ blowout loss to North Texas Saturday, Head Coach Willie Taggart said that goal won’t be met.

North Texas ran for 311 rushing yards against WKU (1-7, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) to spoil the Toppers’ Homecoming afternoon with a 33-6 win at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“I told those guys that it was an embarrassment,” Taggart said. “It was an embarrassment to our program, to our fans, to our alums and to our university. I’m disappointed with them. I’m frustrated with them. I’ve everything you can call it right now.”

Taggart was so displeased with Saturday’s effort that he declined to make players available to the media after the game. He also said the team will get up at 6 a.m. Sunday morning for a “regular practice” if the NCAA allows it.

“We’re going to work at it and see to it that we don’t put another performance out there again, ever,” he said.

The letdown by WKU comes off a 54-21 win at Louisiana-Lafayette last weekend, a victory that snapped the Toppers’ 26-game losing streak.

But as elated as Taggart was after that win, he said he’s that disappointed with Saturday’s showing.

So disappointed, in fact, that he felt compelled to reach out to the Hilltopper fan base.

“I apologize to our fans and our alums, because I really thought our team was going to come out here and play well for everyone, especially after the greeting that we got last week,” Taggart said. “They didn’t do it, so I apologize.”

WKU actually struck first in the game with a 37-yard field goal by redshirt freshman kicker Monte Merrick with 11:22 left in the second quarter.

Merrick got the opportunity to kick after junior Casey Tinius missed a 41-yard try in the first quarter, which dropped Tinius to 4-of-10 on the year. Merrick also recorded WKU’s other three points with a 46-yard field goal in the fourth.

But beyond the two makes by Merrick, the Toppers’ offense didn’t bring much to the table. WKU was outgained 400-272 in total yardage and left the North Texas side of the field four times without points.

“We came out driving the ball like we have been all year, and then we start shooting ourselves in the foot,” Taggart said. “That was the first time this year where I felt like we really took a big step back.”

While WKU’s offense went stagnant, North Texas continued to pound the ball on the ground behind junior running back Lance Dunbar.

Dunbar had 215 rushing yards and three touchdowns in the game, while his backup Brandin Byrd rushed for 83 yards and a score on just five carries.

“If you keep your defense out on the field that long, they’re bound to give up some big plays on you,” Taggart said. “We didn’t help our defense at all offensively — at all.”

North Texas first took the lead with 6:46 left in the second quarter, when Dunbar scored on an 8-yard touchdown run.

North Texas kicker Zach Olen tacked on a 48-yard field goal with 51 seconds left in the second, and the Mean Green took that same advantage into halftime.

The Toppers got the ball to start the second half but went three-and-out on their first drive.

They forced North Texas into a fourth-and-inches situation on the next possession, but Dunbar broke off a 40-yard run to the WKU 3-yard line and scored on the next play. That touchdown gave the Mean Green a 16-3 lead with 12:42 left in the third quarter.

North Texas continued to pile it on in the fourth quarter, adding a 24-yard field goal by Olen, a 53-yard rushing touchdown by Byrd and a 10-yard score by Dunbar before the final horn sounded.

Junior running back Bobby Rainey led the way for WKU with 100 rushing yards and 57 receiving yards.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed 15-of-27 passes for 116 yards. Freshman safety Kiante Young led the WKU defense with nine tackles.

The Toppers will try to rebound from the loss at home again next weekend when they host Florida Atlantic.

Taggart said repeatedly in his postgame interview that he “didn’t see this coming.”

And starting at 6 a.m. Sunday, he said he hopes he doesn’t have to see it again.

“It’s a young football team,” Taggart said. “That win last weekend got everyone excited, and it should. But it’s a process of rebuilding our football tradition. You don’t like losing at all, but we’re going to stay the course.

“We’re going to work a little harder, but we’re not going to steer off-course. The one thing I will hold them accountable for is their effort.”