Coaches looking for WKU’s Jakes to play to his rushing strengths

Sophmore quarterback Kawaun Jakes gets a play into the huddle during WKU’s loss to UK.

Zach Greenwell

Willie Taggart said he knows Kawaun Jakes can run.

The first-year head coach just has to sometimes remind his sophomore quarterback that the option exists, and that Jakes can do it well.

“I told him he needs to do that,” Taggart said. “That’s something he’s got that a lot of quarterbacks don’t have.”

Jakes rushed for 355 yards and five touchdowns as a freshman last season, but Taggart said Jakes has shown more hesitancy to pick up yards on the ground this year.

Taggart said his staff’s new West Coast offense is a big part of that, because Jakes has been working harder than ever to adapt to the system.

“He wants to do well in this offense,” Taggart said. “He wants to be able to drop back and throw the ball and be like the West Coast. He wants to be like Drew Brees and Brett Favre — those guys that go back and throw for a lot of yards — but he’s not on that level right now.

“Yeah, we’d like you to throw it on time, but if it’s not there, run.”

Quarterbacks coach Mike Sanford said Jakes’ learning of the offense was stalled by the sophomore’s ankle injury in the spring, but he’s been pleased with the strides he’s made in WKU’s first three games.

Sanford said he watched film of Florida’s John Brantley stumbling against South Florida — the Toppers’ opponent Saturday — and came away with a better appreciation for Jakes’ ability to hold on to the ball.

“You see three or four horrible decisions that lead to turnovers,” Sanford said. “I’m encouraged to this point that Kawaun’s done a good job of not making those mistakes.”

But at some point, Sanford said Jakes has to move from not making mistakes to making big-time plays.

“He wants to be a guy that reads defenses, and he’s hungry to do that,” Sanford said. “But he can’t forget about one of his greatest strengths, which is getting out of trouble and using his feet when things break down.”

Jakes said he’s been taking advice from both Taggart and Sanford to heart since fall camp began.

Taggart should know a thing or two about making the most of athletic ability. The former WKU quarterback rushed for over 200 yards and three touchdowns in a game at South Florida as a senior in 1998.

“They both used to be quarterbacks, and they both know the offense like the back of their hand,” Jakes said. “I feel pleased to know that both of them play quarterback, so I’m really thankful for that.”

But Taggart said he doesn’t expect Jakes to post those same kinds of numbers against the Bulls Saturday.

Jakes has been getting the reps he would’ve gotten in the spring against big-time opponents this fall, so every game is a small step forward, Taggart said.

“I like quarterbacks that can get us three first downs with his feet,” Taggart said. “The thing I don’t want him to do is feel like he’s got to sit in the pocket and make every throw. We’re not asking him to go out there and be Joe Montana. You can’t do that to him.

“At times, he’s made some bonehead mistakes. But I do think we’re asking him to do more than he’s ready to do at this point, but he’s shown me some toughness. He’s taken some good licks, but he’s still standing there.”