NOTEBOOK: Taggart shows optimism after WKU loss

Head coach Willie Taggart looks on in the final minutes of WKU’s loss to Kentucky.

Zach Greenwell

LEXINGTON — A 63-28 loss would seem like a setback to most teams.

But for Head Coach Willie Taggart, who inherited a team that’s now lost 22 straight games, progress was easy to find Saturday at Kentucky.

“I think we got more,” Taggart said. “We got 20 points, so I think we got more. I think we got better. I don’t like losing, but we got better as a team, and we’re going to continue to get better. Our goals are still there.”

The goals that Taggart speaks of are short and simple — improve every game, and win the Sun Belt Conference championship.

Sun Belt play remains a few weeks in the distance, and Taggart said the other goal was a success.

“Why not stay positive?” Taggart said. “We’ve got a whole season ahead of us. We knew going in it was going to be tough — we said that from the beginning. There’s no reason to get down. We’re understand where we’re at.”

The four-game gauntlet of non-conference contests put in place before Taggart arrived rolls on next weekend when the Toppers host Indiana, the first Big Ten school to ever visit Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“We’re coming,” Taggart said. “We’re not worried about what everyone else thinks about us. We know what we’re going to do, we know we’re the only ones that believe, and that’s all that matters.”

‘It’s Bobby’s world’

As if the 155-yard performance at Nebraska wasn’t big enough, Rainey rushed for a new career-high 183 yards on 22 carries Saturday night.

The feat marked the first time that a WKU back has rushed for 150 yards in two consecutive games since Rod Smart did it in 1999.

“It’s Bobby’s world — we’re just living in it,” Taggart said. “He’s a competitor and a football player. Bobby’s the guy that’s going to show up every Saturday, no matter who he plays.”

Taggart, asked whether or not he was monitoring the 22 carries Rainey received, said he wasn’t keeping tabs on the total in the heat of the moment.

“I wasn’t even thinking about it in this game,” Taggart said. “I just wanted to get something going offensively. He’s the guy that was going, so we started to give him the ball again.”

No other running back had more than two rushing yards in the game.

It’s been a heavy load for Rainey to carry so far, but he said after the game he hasn’t felt any pressure. In fact, he “doesn’t believe in that.”

“If that’s what it takes — me carrying the ball — that is what I’m going to do,” Rainey said.

Kentucky linebacker Danny Trevathan came away impressed by the 5-8 back’s abilities, despite trying to expect a big performance.

“I try not to doubt any backs or anybody period under any circumstances,” Trevathan said. “He did a great job. He’s a tremendous athlete who keeps his feet moving, but we just need to go out there and do a better job of slowing them down.”

Shots in the foot

The Toppers battled a challenging foe in the second quarter Saturday, and it wasn’t the boys in blue across the field.

WKU was its own worst enemy, totaling seven penalties for 50 yards in the game along with two turnovers, including a crucial interception in the first quarter by sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes that swung the momentum Kentucky’s way.

“You look at tonight, and we hurt ourselves,” Taggart said. “Every turnover we had, they got the football on our side of the football field. You’re not going to win a lot of ballgames that way. That’s why they got 63 points.

“It wasn’t just because they drove down the field on us all day long — they had great field position.”

Junior running back Bobby Rainey agreed, saying that the Toppers did much more damage to themselves than the pressure inflicted by the Wildcats.

“It wasn’t like they did anything spectacular — we just hurt ourselves,” Rainey said. “We shouldn’t be in that situation.”