A few days before kickoff, FAU head coach Howard Schnellenberger guaranteed that the Owls would defeat WKU in their stadium opener. On Friday evening, FAU students held a bon fire where they burned a wooden replica of WKU's beloved mascot Big Red. The Tops proved on Saturday that actions speak louder than words leaving Boca Raton with a 20-0 shutout victory.
The victory was the first time since 2007 that WKU put together consecutive wins on the season, and the first time the Tops have shutout an opponent since they defeated West Virginia Tech 87-0 on Sept. 8, 2007.
"It was good for our football team to have some confidence, to get back-to-back wins," said WKU coach Wille Taggart. "It's something we haven't done and we came into this game - we knew FAU was coming in and had a lot of emotion and lot they were playing for in their new stadium, but we felt like we had a lot to play for, too, to put together back-to-back wins. It just shows you our football team is improving and week by week they're getting better and you can see it."
The WKU defense was the story on the day as they held the Owls to just 121 total yards and six first downs. The defense was led by sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson. Jackson paced the Tops with eight tackles including three tackles for loss and a sack. Jackson was not alone on the defensive side of the ball. Junior defensive back Kareem Peterson also added eight tackles on the day while sophomore linebacker Xavius Boyd added seven tackles and a blocked punt.
"Our defense played like the WKU defense of old," said Taggart. "In order to win a championship, we have to have a great defense, and our guys are starting play like that. "We did a great job of not missing a lot of tackles, and they gave us some great field position. We just need to capitalize on that field position and we'll have a really, really good football team."
While the defense was in complete control of the game, they did have the upper hand as FAU starting quarterback Graham Wilbert was not in the lineup after being injured last week against North Texas. The Owls' offense looked good on their opening drive of the game; however, that success was no where to be found afterwards as quarterbacks David Kooi and Stephen Curtis finished just a combined 12/24 passing for 96 yards.
The FAU rushing game also sputtered against the Tops. Senior running back Alfred Morris the game with just 27 yards on 14 carries. As a team the Owls averaged just one yards per carry making it difficult for their defense to get any rest.
When it came to the WKU rushing game, it was business as usual for senior running back Bobby Rainey. Rainey finished the game with 34 carries for 131 yards and two touchdowns while catching the ball three times for 45 yards. This marked the fifth time this season that Rainey reached the 100-yard plateau.
Under center junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes did a good job managing the game for the Tops as he committed no turnovers for the first time since the Tops defeated the Arkansas State Red Wolves in double overtime last season. Jakes finished the game 8/15 passing for 85 yards.
One of the big reasons for the lack of numbers for Jakes was the lack of production from his wide receivers. On the night freshmen wide receiver Boe Brand was the only Tops receiver with a catch as he finished with one catch for four yards. Jakes has found go-to receivers in Rainey and junior tight end Jack Doyle. Doyle and Rainey would combine for seven catches for 81 yards.
If there was any other flaw for WKU it was the kicking game. Kickers Monte Merrick and Casey Tinius missed a combined three field goals and an extra point. So far this season, WKU place kickers are 1-9 on field goal attempts this season. Tinius converted on a 41-yard attempt against Kentucky in the season opener. Jesse Roy was successful on two extra point tries after he entered the game in the fourth quarter.
With the win the Tops have equaled their win total from last season as well as find themselves above .500 for the first time as a member of the Sun Belt Conference. With a 2-1 record in conference play, the team is still in position to accomplish their team goal of winning the conference championship and playing in a bowl game.
"Our guys are going out there and playing for each other, and that's great to see," said Taggart. "Hopefully these back-to-back wins give our Hilltopper Nation something to believe in, and we can't wait to get back and play for them on our home turf next week."
Next week the team returns home for homecoming against the Louisiana-Lafayette Ragin' Cajuns. While WKU did win last year's contest against ULL 54-21, the Cajuns enter the game at the top of the Sun Belt Conference standings. All eyes will be on the Hill as the Tops look to pick up their first home win in 18 tries. Fans would love nothing more than to pick up the 'W' on homecoming against the top team in the conference.