WKU ready to tackle UK playmaker Cobb

Freshman wide receiver Willie McNeal returns the ball up-field on a punt return against the Huskers during Saturday’s game at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.

Zach Greenwell

Head Coach Willie Taggart didn’t have too many qualms with WKU’s offense at Nebraska last weekend.

The Toppers (0-1) didn’t have much to show for their efforts on the scoreboard, but they did push their way to 299 yards of offense behind a stellar performance by junior running back Bobby Rainey.

WKU’s defense – that was a different story.

“We did some really good things offensively,” Taggart said. “We were able to move the ball on them at will when we wanted to. Once we settled down, we showed flashes of what we could be. Guys just have to go tackle. They have to get it done.

“They ran what they did, and we had a guy there – he’s just got to make the tackle. You can’t sit back and wait.”

Poor tackling plagued the Toppers all last season. Senior linebacker Thomas Majors, WKU’s leading tackler in 2009, said there’s no excuse for each defender not winning his own assignment.

“Tackling is basically a pride thing,” Majors said. “You can’t be out there on that field if you don’t want to tackle on defense. That’s our job, at the end of the day, is to get the ball-carrier on the ground.”

Beyond surrendering 49 points, Taggart said the defense’s less-than-impressive showing allowed the Huskers to divert WKU from its preplanned scheme.

“It kind of messed up our game plan,” he said. “We let them get up 21 points really quick, and that took away from a lot of things we wanted to do offensively. It got us off of schedule, and we’ve got to learn to start off fast and finish fast.”

Defensive Coordinator Clint Bowen said the Toppers won’t be able to afford a similar letdown Saturday at Kentucky.

Bowen was already disappointed with how his unit responded at Nebraska, but after getting a look at the Wildcats’ Randall Cobb, things became much more urgent.

Without a doubt the most versatile piece to Kentucky’s offense, junior Cobb returned a kickoff, caught two passes and ran for a 51-yard touchdown out of the Wildcat offense in one drive against Louisville last weekend.

“I didn’t know anything about him,” Bowen said. “He’s got to be one of the best players in the nation. There can’t be a guy at the SEC level that does more for his team than that kid. He earns his scholarship – that guy is the real deal.”

Although they only scored 10 points at Nebraska, the Toppers left Memorial Stadium feeling good about their offense.

Rainey rushed for 155 yards on 30 carries, which Taggart said will build confidence that will trickle down to the offensive line and sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

“The offense knows what we’re capable of doing,” Rainey said. “We went against the No. 8 team in the country, and we moved the ball. Therefore, we feel like we can move the ball on anybody.”

Taggart also said he was pleased with how few penalties, particularly false starts, WKU picked up in the hostile environment in Lincoln, Neb.

But the rhythm WKU’s offense found in the second half didn’t mean much once the Toppers fell behind 28-0.

As as far as Bowen’s concerned, Rainey and company can move the ball all day long, but it’ll all be for naught if the defense doesn’t tighten up.

“It’s still not where it needs to be,” he said. “First game, it’s always a concern, but it showed up more than it should have. Until we learn to get off the blocks, run really fast to the ball and tackle people when we get there, it doesn’t matter what you do.”