WKU’s ‘preseason’ ends after tough four-game slate

Sophomore defensive lineman Rammell Lewis and sophomore defensive back Kareem Peterson make a tackle during a USF rush on Saturday in Tampa. WKU lost, 24-12.

Zach Greenwell

It’s hard to hide a 0-4 record, but WKU’s trying to wipe the slate as clean as possible.

Saturday’s 24-12 loss at South Florida was the final test of the Toppers’ grueling non-conference schedule in which WKU played four Bowl Championship Series conference teams with a combined record of 12-2.

Taggart referred to the four-game gauntlet as the “preseason,” saying that WKU’s only goal in those contests was to get better each game.

And when the clock struck zero on Saturday in Tampa, Fla., Taggart had one message: Mission complete.

“We’re getting better every single game,” Taggart said. “It’s not showing up in the wins and losses — not yet — but we’re getting better. Our next goal is win the Sun Belt conference, and that’s right there for us.”

WKU has a bye this week before beginning Sun Belt play Oct. 9 at Florida International, a rare break that sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said will give the Toppers a chance to reflect on one of the toughest opening slates in program history.

“We just feel like playing this competition really helped us grow as a team,” Doyle said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys. Just maturing through these first four games gets us ready to go for the Sun Belt.”

The Toppers turned in their best statistical effort of the season at South Florida. They limited the Bulls to a season-low 283 yards of offense and set a season-high record for offensive yards gained at 314.

They also worked out the kinks in their third-down defense, as South Florida only converted on 3 of 10 attempts.

And the defense tightened with an entirely new starting secondary, which included true freshmen Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright at cornerback. Redshirt freshman safety Kiante Young also hauled in WKU’s first interception of the season.

“I was just so proud to see how our defense played with those three freshmen back there, playing with that juice that Coach (Taggart) is always talking about,” Doyle said. “That’s definitely something to build on.”

As encouraging as the performance was, it did highlight costly penalties as one of the Toppers’ most glaring issues. Junior kicker Casey Tinius missed three field goals of 44 yards or longer, but two of the tries were pushed back by false-start calls on the offense.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes said the untimely penalties that have plagued the team come down to being disciplined and keeping a winning mentality.

“You always try to be confident,” Jakes said. “I don’t think you play very well if you’re not confident. You’ve got to have a chip on your shoulder, and that’s what we’re trying to get.”

Taggart said mental errors have been WKU’s “Achilles’ heel” so far, and they’re something the Toppers will have to put behind them.

After all, the “preseason” is gone, and Taggart said a new task is at hand.

“We’ve got to learn to stop doing that in critical situations when we’ve got something going,” Taggart said. “We’re going to regroup, reevaluate our football team and prepare for our second goal. Now it’s on to the next challenge.”