Coming into its final game of the season, WKU had already made history by gaining bowl eligibility for the first time as a member of the FBS. Despite their 6-5 record, the Toppers still needed to take care of business against Troy in hopes of keeping the bowl hopes and conference title hopes alive. They were up to the challenge as WKU crushed Troy by a score of 41-18 to send their seniors out in style.
To make things sweeter for WKU (7-5), the team rattled off wins in seven of their last eight games with their only loss coming to the number one ranked LSU Tigers in a game where the Tops proved they were not a push over. With the 23 point victory, WKU completed the greatest turnaround in conference history.
"It was great seeing how we fought back, and to see us play the way we did the last eight week. It's been really enjoyable. After 0-4 our guys could have easily called it quits, but they stuck with the plan," said head coach Willie Taggart. "I was proud of the way we hung in there today and kept fighting after not scoring early. We worked hard all week in practice, and we played like we practiced. Our defense played a fantastic game."
The keys to victory for WKU were 1) controlling the tempo, 2) pressuring the Troy passing attack, and 3) winning the turnover battle.
The first key to victory for the Tops was controlling the tempo. It is no secret that the WKU offense is a run heavy offense. Any team who has the nation's leading rusher, senior running back Bobby Rainey, in the back field would be crazy not to feed him, and feed him they did. Rainey capped off his senior year with a 43 carry, 227 yard, and three touchdown performance. In the process of doing so, Rainey broke the school record for most rushing yards in a single season as well as breaking Lerron Moore's school rushing record for a career.
Despite the personal accomplishment, the always humble Rainey will be the first to tell anyone he would not be the back he is without the help of his offensive line.
"It was a real blessing for me to be a part of history today, and even better with Lerron here," said Rainey. "The power in our line was really clicking for us today."
Rainey as well as quarterback Kawaun Jakes; running backs Keshawn Simpson, Braxton Miller, Kadeem Jones, and offensive lineman Wes Jeffries combined for 64 carries, 360 yards, and six touchdowns. That rushing attack allowed the Tops to have the ball for 43:34 seconds, which really helped the WKU defense.
The second key to the game was the Tops' defense ability to limit the big plays from Troy's potent passing game. While quarterback Corey Robinson did finish the game 18-33 for 303 yards and two touchdowns, the WKU front seven forced him to throw many passes before he wanted to, and the WKU secondary picked Robinson off twice on the evening.
The final key to victory for the Tops was winning the turnover battle. While they did turn the ball over once in the game on a Rainey fumble, the WKU defense forced two interceptions and Kareem Peterson recovered a muffed punt in the first quarter to give the Tops a 3-1 advantage.
After staring the first four games of the season with just three touchdowns and eight interceptions, quarterback Kawaun Jakes really improved as a passer throwing seven touchdown compared to just four interceptions as well as passing for 50% or better in six of the final eight games. Jakes' presence was felt today as he completed 11-18 passes for 156 yards as well as rushing the ball eight times for 51 yards and a touchdown. There is no question that Jakes' improvement has been one of the reasons for WKU's turnaround.
What is next for the Tops? With a 7-5 overall record and a 7-1 conference record, the team still has a shot to win a share of the Sun Belt title if Louisiana-Monroe can pull off the upset of Arkansas State next week. While Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette can accepted bowl bids to the only two bowls with Sun Belt tie-ins, WKU still has a chance to play in a handful of bowls such as the Compass Bowl, Beef O Brady Bowl, Music City Bowl, Liberty Bowl, and more. All the team can do know is sit and wait, but this, without a doubt, has been the craziest season in the history of WKU football, and it may not be over yet.