WKU hoping to seize opportunity in Lexington

Kentucky cornerback Trevard Lindley tackles then-freshman running back Bobby Rainey during the two teams’ first meeting in fall 2008 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington. The Toppers lost 41-3. Rainey ran for 99 yards on just nine carries. “I really don’t care about that game,” he said. “That’s in the past, and we’re moving on toward the future.”

Zach Greenwell

WKU’s memories of its last trip to Lexington aren’t too pleasant.

The Toppers (0-1) took a 41-3 beating at Kentucky during 2008’s 2-10 campaign, managing just 157 yards of total offense.

That contest also marked the start of WKU’s current 21-game losing streak begun nearly two years ago.

But one person who doesn’t have any memories of that game is new Head Coach Willie Taggart, who said he’s been working to erase the bad aftertaste left by the in-state defeat.

“We don’t care anything about what’s happened in the past – nothing at all,” Taggart said. “I wasn’t here. A lot of these coaches weren’t here, so it’s a lot different. The things we’re doing are different, so there’s no similarities to that back then and now.

“It doesn’t matter what happened back then.”

The lone bright spot in WKU’s first-ever meeting with Kentucky was junior running back Bobby Rainey, who ran for 99 yards on just nine carries as a redshirt freshman.

Although it was one of Rainey’s first breakout performances, he said it’s just another loss that he’s trying to forget.

“I really don’t care about that game,” Rainey said. “That’s in the past, and we’re moving on toward the future.”

Asked what he knows about the current Wildcats, Taggart’s answer was simple.

“I know they’re in the SEC, I know they beat Louisville, and I know they’re pretty fast,” Taggart said. “They can run.”

One of the culprits in Kentucky’s rushing attack, senior Derrick Locke, ran for 34 yards against WKU two seasons ago. Even then, junior safety Mark Santoro said the speedy back’s talents were evident.

“That game – one thing I remember – it was like 10-3, and we were kicking off, and then Locke took one back on us on a kickoff return,” Santoro said. “That kind of changed the whole momentum of the game going into the half. He can fly, so we’re going to have to contain him.

“I think it’ll be fun to see them for the second time, and hopefully we can get back at them.”

Locke won’t be the only familiar face. UK senior quarterback Mike Hartline, who WKU Defensive Coordinator Clint Bowen called a “good game-manager and distributor,” was the starter in the 2008 rout.

Several UK and WKU players were teammates with each other in high school, and that added level of emotion is one that Kentucky Head Coach Joker Phillips told reporters Monday he’ll have to keep in check.

“It will be an exciting game for a lot of those guys,” Phillips said. “We tried to recruit a lot of those guys. Some grew up Kentucky fans. It will be a big game for them – a red-letter game for them. So we’ve got to be prepared.”

Preparation is already the name of the game for Taggart.

He said Monday that he still feels confident about the game plan his staff concocted for its first game at Nebraska, but poor tackling and big plays turned the tide in the 49-10 loss.

So Taggart said the Toppers will be ready Saturday in Lexington. They have to be, because teams with 21-game losing streaks don’t get many chances to knock off the big dog in their state, he said.

“It’s very important,” Taggart said. “We want to be known as one of the top teams in the state. It’s a great opportunity that we get to play Kentucky. Now we get to play for the crown. They beat U of L, so I guess if we beat them, we’ll be state champs.

“We have an opportunity, and every time you get one you have to take advantage of it.”