WKU football dialing in on Nebraska as fall camp winds down

WKU football dialing in on Nebraska as fall camp winds down

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 26, 2010.

The Toppers have had two weeks and change to beat up on each other in fall camp, but Head Coach Willie Taggart said they’re just about ready to find a new target.

Thursday was Western’s second day of preparation for Nebraska, and Taggart said the Toppers are starting to get antsy for their Sept. 4 trip to Lincoln, Neb.

“They’re excited. They get the chance to hit someone else,” Taggart said. “They’re tired of hitting each other and tired of coming out here and not playing for anything other than the practice that day. I think the guys are getting fired up as we get closer and hopefully starting to believe.”

Taggart labeled Thursday’s drills as a “communication practice,” trying to prepare the team for the hostile environment they’ll see at Memorial Stadium in nine days.

“We had a very energetic practice today,” he said. “Guys were flying around, we were communicating, and we came out and said, ‘If we don’t do anything else right today, we’re going to communicate.’”

Sophomore tight end Jack Doyle said the Toppers started to feel like the season is close at hand when they ran through their introduction to Smith Stadium for 2010 home games earlier in the week.

But that won’t matter until Sept. 18, when Western hosts Indiana.

For now, Doyle said just learning the basics of the Cornhuskers is enough to add some extra energy.

“We started working on Nebraska stuff and the scout team and stuff like that, and that gets you excited,” he said. “It’s going good. We’re getting excited about what we think we can do against it. We’ll just keep working on it through the end of this week and through next week.”

Taggart said the Toppers will practice in Smith Stadium next week with loud, artificial noise playing over the speakers to imitate the 80,000 or so fans they’ll play in front of in Lincoln.

Imitating crowd noise was a staple of the David Elson era, as Western geared up for its season opener at Tennessee last season with “Rocky Top” resonating throughout campus repeatedly. Similar techniques were used before the Toppers’ games at Florida and Alabama in previous seasons.

“Next week, we’re going to start doing that,” Taggart said. “You have to, because if you go in there and you’ve never been in there, guys aren’t going to be able to hear sometimes. We’ve got to be prepared for that.

“When they’re out there next Saturday, they’re going to be out there by themselves. Coach can’t be in the huddle telling them what to do.”

Although Western’s just scratched the surface of its preparation for the eighth-ranked Huskers, the Toppers began simulating the pressure they’ll likely see from Nebraska’s defensive front line on Thursday.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes made several quick passes, both across the middle and on screens to the outside, working to avoid blitzes from the Toppers’ scout-team defense.

“Coaches see different things, but we think we can run the ball against them,” Doyle said. “We’re getting excited about what we think we can do as an offense line and our running backs, and we’re just getting excited.”

It’s a system of trial and error right now for Western, Taggart said.

The Tops don’t exactly know how they want to attack the Huskers’ defense, which finished last season as one of the top units in the country, so all they can do is see what flies against the scout team and what doesn’t.

“We weren’t trying to put the entire game plan in because you really don’t know right now, but trying a couple of things and seeing what it looks like against the scout guys,” Taggart said. “If it doesn’t work, you evaluate the film and throw some things out or say, ‘That looks pretty good. Let’s keep it.’”

Taggart said watching Nebraska film has already been a powerful tool for Western. Senior linebacker Orlando Misaalefua came out of the first team meetings on Nebraska Wednesday already talking about the Huskers’ power, option-oriented offense, but Taggart said there’s a difference between seeing something on film and translating it to the field.

“Watching film makes those guys a lot more confident with what they’re doing,” he said. “Not just watching film, but understanding what you’re watching. We try to do a good job as coaches of making sure those guys understand what they’re watching. Don’t just go watch your position, understand the down and distance and the situation, whether it’s in the red zone or not.

“Offensively and defensively you make certain calls because of those situations, so we’re trying to get our team to understand them and not just be out there.”

Obviously there’s quite a distinction between Western’s scout defense and the starting 11 of Nebraska, but sophomore receiver Marcus Vasquez says the Toppers don’t see it that way.

Confidence can be hard to find when you’ve lost 20 straight games, but Western doesn’t stand a chance without it, Vasquez said.

“We think we can do anything,” Vasquez said. “We’ve just got to go out there with confidence. We’ve got the people, we’ve got the O-line, we’ve got the skill players. We can go out there and beat them, but come Saturday, we’ve got to go out there with confidence and do what we know we can do best, and that’s play football.”