The last time WKU won a Thursday night game came back on September 20, 2007. In that game, the Tops rallied late in the fourth quarter to pull out a stunning 20-17 victory. To make things sweeter, the victory came at the hands of their long-time rival Middle Tennessee State. As the Tops once again travel to Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, they will to have similar success against their rival as they are still searching for their first win of the 2011 season.
WKU looked to have their first win of the season last Saturday as they led Arkansas State 22-19 with less than three minutes to play in the game; however, they came up just short as a late touchdown gave the Red Wolves a 26-22 victory at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green.
"We played hard and got ourselves in that position," said head coach Willie Taggart. "Now we have to close the deal once we get there. Rather than playing not to lose, we need to go in and say 'I'm going to win this ball game. I'm going to win it for us.' That is part of us building our program and getting the mindset of a winner."
The Tops have a short turn around as they look to defeat MTSU in their house in front of a national audience. If the team can pull off the victory, they have a good chance of getting things back on track for the remainder of the season.
"It's huge," said senior defensive back Ryan Beard. "We need a win, regardless of who it is against. Just because it is against Middle [Tennessee], it makes it even better. I think it is going to help us prepare and do the things we need to do to be successful on Thursday."
One of the keys to victory for WKU this Thursday is shutting down another talented quarterback. The Blue Raider offense is led by redshirt sophomore quarterback Logan Kilgore. So far this season, Kilgore has completed 60.5% of his passes for 1136 yards and ten touchdowns while only throwing four interceptions. While the Tops' defense played much better against Arkansas State last week, they will have to take even larger steps forward if they want to stop Kilgore.
"He is a good quarterback," said Taggart. "He gets rid of the ball, and he has some talent around him to get the ball out. He is really accurate with the football and has some really good anticipation in throwing the football, which really makes him a threat for them. And looking at his percentage, he is up there in the 60 percent range, and that is pretty good throwing the football as much as they do."
One player that will look to step up on the defense is sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson. Jackson finds himself at the top of the conference in tackles with 48 as well as tackles per game (12) and tackles for loss (10). If Jackson can record another 10+ tackle performance, he will become the first player in school history to record 10+ tackles in the first five games since Mark Fatkin recorded seven in a row back in 1983.
For WKU the offense will look to improve after recording their highest point total of the season against Arkansas State. The offense has a favorable match this Thursday as they find themselves pitted against a Blue Raider defense that is ranked eighth out of nine teams in the conference in total yards allowed (472.5) as well as last in the conference in rush defense and opponent third down conversion.
"I felt like we showed what we can do," said sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones. "We're not there yet, but we are going to keep on practicing to do better."
While everyone knows the names of running back Bobby Rainey, tight end Jack Doyle, and quarterback Kawaun Jakes, one player for the Tops that everyone should keep their eyes on is Kadeem Jones.
After a slow start to the season, Jones has really stepped up his game scoring touchdowns in consecutive games for the WKU offense. The 5'11" 270 lbs. tank of a fullback will look to become a big part of the offense with his running, catching, and blocking abilities. Coaches hope that his size and ability will help alleviate some of the pressure on both Kawaun Jakes and Bobby Rainey, a job that Jones takes very serious.
"It is always fun to get the ball," said Jones, "but I know my role is to block. I look at it this way: I'm blocking for the best back in the conference. What other fullback can say that?"
One interesting note about Thursday's matchup is the team's jerseys. Both MTSU and the Tops will wear their home jerseys during the game. The decision to go with dueling home jerseys was made to replicate other great college football rivalries, such as USC-UCLA. No matter what they wear, the Tops will look to finish the job this week and pick up their first win of the 2011 campaign.