Last season 20,772 WKU fans, the second most in team history, packed Houchens Industries- LT Smith Stadium as the Toppers opened their home schedule against Indiana. Although the Hoosiers left Bowling Green with a 38-21 victory, fans left the game with high hopes for the Willie Taggart era at WKU.
This season the Toppers will need that kind of support as they open their home schedule against Navy. Not only will WKU look for its first win of the 2011 season, it will also be looking to end another streak.
The last time that the Toppers won a game inside the friendly confides of Houchens Industries- LT Smith Stadium came back on Sept. 20, 2008 when they defeated Murray State 50-9 in front of the largest crowd in the stadium history. Since that point the Toppers have lost 15 straight home contests including numerous gut-wrenching fourth quarter defeats.
Last season was a tough one for WKU at home as Louisiana-Monroe, Florida Atlantic, and Middle Tennessee all put together come from behind wins to defeat the Toppers at home on the hill. All that is history as the 2011 WKU squad will look to make history and pick up the win against Navy.
If the Toppers want to make history, they will do so with their defense taking the lead. Last week the WKU defense held Kentucky's offense to just 190 yards of total offense while forcing UK quarterback Morgan Newton to throw three interceptions. The defense is led by sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson who dominated Kentucky with 12 tackles and an innumerable amount of big hits.
Another key to the Toppers' defense is senior lineman Jared Clendenin who totaled four tackles and an interception. The defensive line put tremendous on the UK backfield, which allowed for all areas of the defense to step up and make plays.
If the defense did not already have a reason to feel confident, they will get a boost as senior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen will make his first appearance of the season. Allen did not play against Kentucky as he was suspended for violating team rules. With Allen back in the lineup, the WKU defense will be flying high when they take on Navy.
Even with their success against Kentucky, the Toppers' defense has a tall task in front of them as Navy brings their vaunted triple option to WKU. The Navy offense is lead by senior quarterback Kriss Proctor. Proctor paced Navy in their defeat of Delaware with 176 rushing yards, 47 passing yards, and four total touchdowns. While Proctor is not the team's only weapon, the Toppers must corral the Navy quarterback in order to have any chance of defeating Navy.
In addition to stopping their opponent's offense, WKU must get its offense rolling after a very sluggish start to the 2011 campaign. While they did outgain UK in their opening contest, the Topper offense could only muster 234 yards of total offense and three points.
One way the offense must improve is the passing game. Last week the performance of quarterback Kawaun Jakes was subpar as he completed just 9-27 passes totaling just 93 yards and four interceptions. Jakes does have luck on his side against Navy. In his first career start back in 2009, Jakes had what will probably go down as the best game of his career as he accounted for 320 yards of total offense and three touchdowns. If Jakes can put up similar numbers, WKU will be in excellent position to defeat Navy.
One way that the Toppers will try to alleviate pressure on Jakes is the work of their offensive line and senior running back Bobby Rainey.
Last week WKU coach Willie Taggart was critical of the protection of his quarterback stating that he must have more time in the pocket if the Toppers want to be successful through the air. Rainey will also look to help out his quarterback as he looks to rush for 100 yards for his seventh straight game.
Against Kentucky, Rainey rushed for 105 yards on 28 carries. If the WKU front seven can give Jakes and Rainey some time and space, the offense will put up points.
On defense, Navy is still struggling to find their identity. They only return three starters from last year's defense and looked very shaky against Delaware giving up 363 yards of offense, 220 of which came on the ground. With the problems that Navy has in it rush defense and the strength of the WKU run game, it will be very interesting to see what both sides do come game day.
The biggest x-factor in this game is the Toppers' Jack Doyle. Doyle made headlines this offseason as he was targeted by many people as one of the best tight ends in the nation and possibly the best tight end in the Sun Belt Conference.
Last week Doyle had just one catch for five yards but had a spectacular touchdown catch taken away from him by way of a blatant overthrow by Jakes, which saw that drive ultimately result in a missed Casey Tinius field goal.
Had Jakes connected with Doyle on the score, it is very plausible that WKU would have pulled off the upset over the Kentucky Wildcats. If the Toppers can get this guy rolling, it will open deeper routes for WKU's more speedy wide receivers, which could lead to more points on the scoreboard and a home win for the Toppers.
When the clock hits all zeroes, the WKU football team has an excellent chance to pick up the victory over Navy. With their performance against UK, fans believe that this team has a great chance to reverse the recent fortunes of Western Kentucky football. A win over Navy could result in the resurgence of a football program struggling for success at college football's highest level.