NOTEBOOK: WKU adjusting to Taggart’s West Coast offense

Zach Greenwell

This story was originally published Aug. 15, 2010.

Willie Taggart may be in charge of the entire Western team this season, but sometimes he can’t hide his offensive roots.

The former standout Topper quarterback said after Sunday’s practice that he still gets a chuckle out of tricking the defense with wrinkles in his West Coast offense  – even if it’s his own D.

“Some of those defense guys will say, ‘Oh come on, we stopped playing that video game-type stuff,’ but you know, it’s legal,” Taggart said. “For us, we’re thinking outside the box and doing anything we can do to make ourselves better.

“Our offensive players love it, and it’s effective. You don’t just line up and let them tee off, but we’re going to make the defense think a little bit before they react.”

Western showed off a few of the new layers of its offense on Sunday, mixing several play-action passes into what was a run-heavy first practice.

Freshmen fullbacks Nick Baisch and Cy Schroeder were just a couple of the unlikely players to get involved with the passing game, each catching a few passes on rollouts. Junior tight end Tristan Jones also caught a couple balls out of a two-tight-end set with sophomore Jack Doyle.

Taggart said the coaching staff had to worry about the basics during the spring, but that they feel much more comfortable just letting people make plays now.

“In the spring, you had to tell those guys, but I think they took that and worked on it in the summer,” he said. “We’re not having a lot of missed assignments, which is great in this offense. It’s about winning the one-on-one battle.”

The coaching staff has been present during each offensive huddle so far this fall. Taggart said that it will stay that way until the Toppers scrimmage, and that’s when things like the play clock will become a factor.

“When we’re in practice, we want to make sure they know the play and can go out and execute it,” Taggart said. “Right now, we just want to make sure they get the snap and line up right and do things the right way.”

Taggart was asked how hard it can be for players to keep up with the difficult play calls in the new offense, and the first-year coach decided to rattle off a few play names for the media.

Most of them came out too fast to even be discernible on a recorder, and Taggart said that even he was fumbling over one or two in the huddle.

“If you’re new to it, it is (tough), but once you get it down — all you’ve got to be able to do is read as a quarterback,” said Taggart, tongue firmly in cheek. “If you can read, we’ll be fine. It’s not that hard.”

Cissell ‘calls out’ coach T

One of the biggest surprises during the Toppers’ 11-on-11 drills Sunday was freshman running back Dalton Cissell.

Cissell, a 5-9, 193-pound walk-on from Shepherdsville, bowled over the defense on a drive led by junior quarterback Matt Pelesasa.

Cissell broke several tackles on a run of about 12 yards in the red zone, then forced his way in for a touchdown on a 3-yard run up the gut.

“I think he’s getting tired of coach Taggart yelling at him when he doesn’t run it in there hard,” Taggart said of Cissell. “I think he was calling me out on that – ‘Coach, I’ll show you I can run the ball in there.’ That’s how we want our running backs to run the ball. Rather than getting hit, we want them to deliver the hit.”

Muzzles coming off QBs soon

Western media relations informed reporters Sunday that Western’s three quarterbacks – Pelesasa, sophomore Kawaun Jakes and freshman Brandon Doughty – will likely become available for their first interviews this fall sometime this week.

For the portion of practice attended by media, Jakes worked with the first-team offense, while Pelesasa went with the second. Doughty did not take a rep for the final 45 minutes.

Taggart said the order at the end of practice was not an indication of who’s leading the race, because each quarterback rotates through the different strings.

“For those guys, it’s being consistent,” Taggart said. “Come next week, a guy’s going to start spending more time with the (first team) – whoever’s taking care of their business. Those guys understand that, and they’re taking it the right way.”

Taggart added that it’s been the plan all along to spread out each quarterback’s reps for the first week before gradually widening the gap.

“I wanted to come in this week and let them compete,” he said. “I wanted it to be fair, let them get reps and see who can move our offense. Not just going out and executing the plays, but leading our offense in the huddle and motivating their teammates.

“They all have those opportunities, and I’m looking to see who grabs it.”