In what was billed as one of the biggest football games ever to be played at WKU, the Toppers began about the worst way imaginable.
Indiana junior wide receiver Tandon Doss returned the opening kickoff 70 yards to the WKU 13-yard line. Two plays later, the Toppers caught a break with an Indiana fumbled handoff and cashed in with an impressive drive that ended with a rushing touchdown from junior running back Bobby Rainey.
The good times ended pretty soon.
Indiana reeled off 31-unanswered points and rallied to smack the Toppers 38-21 on WKU's much-anticipated home-opener.
"We came ready to play, but at the end of the game, I didn't think we came ready to play like we're capable of playing," coach Willie Taggart said. "It's mainly our offense. We got ourselves in a hole because our offense wasn't clicking, our offense wasn't doing the things we normally do.
"I just thought guys lost focus, quickly."
The defensive woes continued for the Toppers. Hoosiers senior quarterback Ben Chappell completed 32 of 42 passes for 366 yards and three touchdowns.
"I wish I could tell you (what happened against the pass)," junior safety Ryan Beard said. "If we knew, we'd fix it as fast as we could. That's one thing we've just gotta figure out."
Perhaps more telling, Chappell was able to get Indiana the third down conversions it needed far too frequently and easily. The Hoosiers were 10 for 12 on third down.
"That's absolutely not gonna get it done," Beard said. "We forced 'em into like second and 20 three or four times and they were either a step ahead of us or we were in just the wrong coverage. That can't happen. To be a good defense, you've gotta come out and be real steady on third downs."
Defensively, Taggart and the Toppers knew they'd be undermatched between their defensive backs and Indiana's receivers. But as the game wore on, there was more to it than that.
"They have some trees over there and we have some grass," Taggart said. "They're big, but that's no excuse for not taking care of your job. We have some guys out there that are making the same mistakes over. We give up big plays when we make mistakes and when we don't make mistakes, we make stops."
But the offense sputtered too. After running for 62 yards on the Toppers' opening drive, Rainey became stagnant. Entering the game as the nation's fourth-leading rusher, Rainey did finish with 105 yards, but only 43 after that drive.
But the rest of the offense didn't get much done either, with 288 yards of total offense.
"We did run the ball those first two games, so from that standpoint, I feel like we took a step back," sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes said. "Coach Taggart said the same thing. We came out ready to play, but we just went downhill after that."
The penalties again crept up to bite the Toppers, with six for 56 yards. It all added up to another loss, now an NCAA-long 23 games in a row.
WKU hopes its getting closer to turning the corner, but it just hasn't happened yet. Next week won't get any easier, with a trip to South Florida next week.
"We're just trying to dig deep," Jakes said. "Eventually, it's just in yourself, if you wanna do it or you don't."
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