NOTEBOOK: WKU’s defense encouraging to Taggart at USF

Zach Greenwell

TAMPA, Fla. — Although the defense had been slashed and dashed through in WKU’s first three games, Head Coach Willie Taggart said the unit was the most encouraging part of the Toppers’ 24-12 loss at South Florida on Saturday night.

“I told our defense before the game that I had a dream last night that they were going to play their best ballgame, and I thought they came out and did that,” Taggart said.

WKU, which allowed an average of 50 points per game in its first three contests, held South Florida to just 283 yards of total offense.

South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels, who Taggart lauded all week as a big-time playmaker, had just 57 yards passing and an interception. Daniels also rushed for 30 yards and a score.

“We knew if we could shut him down, we’d have a chance,” Taggart said. “Our guys were eager to get out there and take that challenge, and I was really proud of our defense. I knew what kind of player he is. He can win a game by himself.”

The Topper defense also excelled in third-down situations, limiting the Bulls to just three conversions in 10 tries.

That came a week after WKU allowed Indiana to complete 10-of-13 third downs.

“We knew we had to come out and play lights-out to give ourselves a chance to win, and I feel like that’s what we did,” freshman safety Kiante Young said.

To be young

Taggart completely overhauled WKU’s secondary Saturday, starting four new defensive backs against the Bulls.

Freshmen Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright got the starts at cornerback, while Young and sophomore Kareem Peterson started at safety.

Young and Peterson got the nod with junior starters Mark Santoro and Ryan Beard both injured, but Taggart said Robinson and Wright simply won the jobs.

“Those guys stepped up and played like we wanted them to play,” he said. “This week, they had a good week of practice, and they came out here and had a good day on defense.”

Wright and Peterson each had four tackles, with Wright also recording a sack.

Young had three tackles and WKU’s first interception of the season, and Robinson add two tackles.

“That was great. We knew we could play,” Young said. “We executed in practice, so we felt good coming into the game. That’s huge.

“It means we can have a better rotation when everyone comes back, and we can just play harder, faster and longer.”

Finding a groove

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes took a career-high 37 pass attempts Saturday night and completed 19 of them, sending seven sophomore tight end Jack Doyle’s way.

Jakes was able to find Doyle several times on play-action passes where the defense bit on junior running back Bobby Rainey, and Doyle said the synergy between them is something that will pay off down the road.

“I feel like me and Kawaun got going a little bit,” Doyle said. “That’s going to help Bobby and our running game too, and building some confidence against a Big East team gets us ready for the Sun Belt.”

Jakes also showed poise in the pocket and found Doyle across the middle more than once, including a 25-yard strike to the big tight end for a touchdown.

“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.”

Extra notes

Rainey’s touchdown pass in the fourth quarter was the first of his career … Rainey’s score also kept WKU from being shut out, and the Toppers have now gone 99 games without being held scoreless … Saturday night’s attendance at Raymond James Stadium was 40,276.