LEXINGTON, Ky.—This was it, a chance to show the nation and the state that the newest addition to the highest stage in college football was here and ready to play with the big boys.
Unfortunately, it seemed that only one player got that message.
Redshirt freshman Bobby Rainey had a huge day for WKU, an effort that went wasted in the Toppers' 41-3 beat-down at Kentucky tonight.
Rainey piled up 256 all-purpose yards against the Wildcats, but the rest of the Toppers did little else in support.
"Number one, they're pretty good," coach David Elson said. "We said that going in, and it was true. They were pretty good and we've just gotta keep trying to find ways to, I'd say we need to get the ball to number 17 a little more. He really stepped up his game tonight and that's what we need. We talked about, let's not complicate this, this week. Let's block better, let's tackle better and let's make some plays. He was a guy that really stuck out and made plays and we've just gotta keep grinding."
For nearly the entire first half, the Toppers hung with their SEC brethren.
After a 50 yard field goal by senior kicker Tanner Siewert, WKU trailed just 10-3 with 3:07 left in the second quarter.
The Toppers' kickoff coverage team, which had drawn praises from their coaches entering the game, suddenly broke down. UK sophomore Derrick Locke returned the kick 100 yards for a touchdown to give the Wildcats a commanding 17-3 lead and deflate any hint of momentum for WKU.
"Our kickoff coverage team has been a strength for us and, ya know, gotta give them credit," Elson said. "They executed and Locke is obviously fast. That, at that time changed the momentum. You get into half, down 17-3 and we juts felt like if we could get something going offensively, we honestly felt, maybe we felt too good defensively. We thought we were doing pretty good and we had them, we just, we felt ok. We'd only given up the ten points and got some stops."
Offensively, Rainey was the only missile that deployed.
With sophomore quarterback KJ Black constantly under pressure, he only threw five passes in the first half. He completed just one, a four yard loss to sophomore wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper.
"It's difficult when you're trying to look downfield and you see a defender in your face, as soon as you start to step," Black said. "Still, we've gotta do something. This is a subpar performance and we've gotta pick it up."
The Toppers defense was on its heels early. Senior cornerback Marcus Minor made an interception off a tipped pass with 8:22 left in the first quarter, but the offense was unable to produce anything from it.
Following the touchdown by Locke, WKU's defense was nearly non-existent.
Kentucky needed just 1:39 into the second half to add another touchdown and go up 24-3. The Wildcats scored on their first five drives of the second half as the Toppers' defense showed little resistance.
After 146 yards of total offense in the first half, Kentucky added 252 in the second half.
"I just think our guys got tired and lost focus," Minor said. "We came out with a lot of fire the first half, got a lot of stops. We got a couple of stops and that got us going. In the second half, I just think they got on top of us kinda quick."
Rainey proved to be the lone bright spot on an otherwise dull first ever meeting with Kentucky. In addition to 99 yards rushing, Rainey had a total of 157 yards on punt and kickoff returns, including one for 74 yards in the third quarter.
As was the theme for the night, the Toppers went backward instead of forward, went three and out and Siewert missed wide left on a 44-yard field goal attempt.
"I've been waiting since my redshirt year," Rainey said. "With me, as far as this year, with me getting the opportunities that I did, I think I'm doing a good job at it and I've gotta keep doing it and stay humble, keep grinding."
All of the Toppers will have to keep grinding to forget about this drubbing.