Taggart ‘ready to roll’ into first game

WKU Coach Willie Taggart said he’ll be a “good nervous” when the Toppers walk into Memorial Stadium on Saturday for Taggart’s debut as a head coach. It will come against No. 8 Nebraska, the second-highest-ranked team the WKU football program has ever faced.

Brad Stephens

Willie Taggart has been waiting for Nebraska since he was named WKU’s head coach last November.

After nine months full of recruiting, offseason conditioning and then a blazing-hot fall camp, college football’s youngest coach will make his debut at 6 p.m. Saturday.

“I’ve been a head coach now since November,” Taggart said. “Now I’m ready to roll.”

Rolling with an 0-12 team is a challenge itself.

Now add the fact that Taggart’s first game as head coach will be in Lincoln’s Memorial Stadium in front of 81,000 hostile Husker fans. Nebraska’s No. 8 ranking also makes the Huskers the second-highest-ranked team the WKU football program has ever faced.

So one could reasonably expect the new coach of the 37-point underdog Toppers to be nervous on Saturday, which Taggart said he will be.

But it’s a “good nervous” — the kind that makes Taggart want to take a deep breath and “go get it.”

“Any competitor always gets nervous right before game time,” Taggart said. “But you’ll get the little bugs out and get ready to roll.”

Taggart got a taste of nasty road crowds during his time as running backs coach at Stanford.

His Cardinal teams traveled to national powers USC, Notre Dame and Oregon, and Taggart said his experiences there provided a successful blueprint for his new job.

But with the title of head coach, Taggart has new responsibilities he didn’t have with Stanford.

“Now I’m organizing and planning the whole thing, where before I was just taking the lead on some things and helping the whole process,” Taggart said. “Now I get to do it how I want to do it.”

Taggart will roll out his West Coast offense on Saturday night, and sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said WKU plans to go right at Nebraska’s daunting run defense.

“Personally I think the running game is our best thing,” he said. “And we’re not going to change what we do.”

The Toppers’ aggressive, strength-on-strength mindset comes directly from their head coach, who said his team isn’t intimidated by Nebraska or any other opponent.

 “In big games we played in the past, we had the mindset of ‘Here’s the big guys on the block. We don’t stand a chance. We’re just trying to stay healthy,’” Taggart said. “We don’t roll that way now.”

Even Nebraska’s Memorial Stadium, the famed Sea of Red, isn’t going to be a problem for WKU in junior defensive end Jared Clendenin’s eyes.

“This is going to be a house full of Western red,” Clendenin said, smiling. “We’re ready for 90,000 screaming Western fans.”

Those “Western fans” will be ready to pounce if the Toppers slip up — a message that Taggart said he has passed on to his team.

“The true test will come once we get into the fire — once adversity strikes,” Taggart said. “That’s what I’m concerned with the most …That’ll show the true character of our football team.”