Things finally came together for WKU last week as the pulled out their first victory of the season on the road against rival Middle Tennessee State. While junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes called they game "an all-time high," things are back to business for the Tops as they prepare for a hungry Florida Atlantic team.
"I have told our football team that we have to embrace success," said head coach Willie Taggart, "but there is no time to celebrate. We have a journey, a long journey, ahead of us, and we are still climbing the mountain. We want to take it one step at a time and stay focused. "
If WKU can pull off the win not only will they be above .500 in Sun Belt Conference play for the first time in school history, but they will have won consecutive games for the first time since 2007 when they put together a streak of three wins against Indiana State, North Carolina Central, and Chattanooga.
One player who will be a big part of the Tops' game plan is junior tight end Jack Doyle. In the win at MTSU, Doyle became the first WKU player to record 100-yard receiving when he caught six passes for 100 yards. For his efforts Doyle was named the John Mackey Tight End of the Week given to the FBS's top tight end beating out players from Notre Dame and Rice.
Another player for the Tops who has stepped up and made a major impact on the field is sophomore punter Hendrix Brakefield. Brakefield has probably been the most consistent player for WKU this season, and everyone across the Sun Belt is taking notice. Against MTSU Brakefield pinned the Raiders inside their own twenty yard line five times, one of those times resulted in sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson trapping the MTSU running back in his end zone for a safety.
"Hendrix [Brakefield] has been a tremendous weapon for us," said Taggart. "It gets overlooked sometimes, but a big reason why we are in that Middle Tennessee game is field position."
If Brakefield can replicate his success this weekend, the Tops have a very good chance of pulling out the win against the Owls. FAU has struggled mightily this season and find themselves winless on the season.
"They are a good football team," said Taggart. "They are not a 0-5 football team. They have had a really tough schedule, a really, really tough schedule. These last two ball games they have played, they could have easily won those games. They have some really good talent over there. They are a young team, and you see a lot of potential in them."
On the field, the Owls are led by quarterback Graham Wilbert. While he has not thrown for a ton of yards, Wilbert is a very efficient passer completing 64.3% of his passes, the second best in the conference, and holding a passer rating of 141.3, the fourth best in the conference.
On the defensive side of the ball, FAU boasts the third best pass defense in the conference allowing an average of 226.4 per game through the air. The Owls' defense is led by junior linebacker David Hinds who has recorded 39 tackles.
WKU will look to counter the FAU defense with a grinding running game and timely passing. Junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes has thrown for 140+ yards and completed at least half of his passes in three straight games while seeing his turnovers decrease. His improved play is evident in his demeanor and the demeanor of the Tops' faithful.
"Throughout the week," said Jakes, "Coach Taggart had been saying 'just believe.' That is basically what we were getting back to. Going into the Kentucky game, we were just believing, and then we fell down and lost some confidence. Now we just got back to that, and we just started playing like we believe and want to win."
The belief is beginning to make itself evident in Jakes, which could pay huge dividends for WKU. The Tops cannot over look their opponent come Saturday for multiple reasons. The biggest reason the Owls cannot be counted out is their head coach Howard Schnellenberger. Under his guidance the Owls not only made the jump from FCS to FBS in 2006, but have finished with a sub-.500 conference record just once in that time.
Another thing that FAU has going for them is home field. Saturday makes the first home contest of the season for the Owls. Not only is it the home opener, but it is the stadium opener. Construction on the new 30,000 seat FAU Football Stadium wrapped up at the beginning of October, and FAU looks to break it in with a big win.
Although the Owls will look to impress in their new nest, WKU has won three of its past four road games and will look to make it four out of five come Saturday.
"When we are away, we play with no fear," stated Jakes. "We don't worry about all of the outside things. We just play."
With that confidence Jakes and the rest of the Tops will look to continue their winning ways while playing spoiler at the same time.
"It will be good for them to open their new stadium," said junior defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen, "but they are going to take an 'L' that night. That is what we plan on doing - ruining their night by coming home with a 'W.'"