This year has been one for the ages for WKU football. It started with a lot of optimism as the team fought hard but came up just short against UK at LP Field in Nashville. Things then took a turn for the worse as the team dropped their next two games to Navy (40-14) and FCS opponent Indiana State (44-16). Following their loss to Indiana State, team morale was at an all time low, and many critics stated that the Tops move to the FBS was a bad idea. Things began to look up as they opened conference play against Arkansas State, but the team could not get in the win column as the Red Wolves rallied to beat WKU in the last minute by a score of 26-22. At 0-4 many thought the season was over.
Things turned around the following week as the Tops traveled to Murfreesboro to face long hated rival Middle Tennessee State. In one of the most exciting games of the season, WKU made the plays and stunned their rival with a 36-33 double overtime victory. The team has never looked back from that victory rattling off wins in five of their next six games and gaining bowl eligibility in the process. Despite their 6-5 record, there is still work to be done for the Tops.
"What our guys have done right now is just remarkable," said second year head coach [db]Willie Taggart[/db]. "In three years of being in Division I football and to have yourself bowl eligible and climb that mountain against all odds and unbelievable resistance and our guys fight through that. It is a story what they are doing right now. It is the first time in our school history to even be in that situation when no one thought you would. A lot of credit goes to our seniors and guys that have been through here and all they've been through. Again, this is special: first time in school history."
Despite the historic success if the Tops want to solidify their bowl position, they must pick-up a win on Saturday against conference foe Troy (3-7). The keys to victory for WKU are 1) control the tempo, 2) stop the Troy passing attack, and 3) finish the job.
The first key to victory for WKU has been a huge reason why the team is currently on the streak they are: control the tempo. It is no secret that the Tops know how to control the clock. The team currently ranks first in the Sun Belt conference and fourth in the FBS in time of possession with 34:22 of ball time.
One reason they have been so successful in this area is the play of senior running back [db]Bobby Rainey[/db]. Last week Rainey torched North Texas with 262 yards of total offense and two touchdowns, which earned him his second career SBC Player of the Week award. His effort also moved him to first in the FBS in rushing yards on the season. If Bobby can gain 83 yards against Troy, he will pass Lerron Moore for first place on WKU's all time leading rushing list. Even with the record at in his grasp, Bobby is focused on one thing, getting the win for his team on senior day.
"It's on his mind," said junior quarterback [db]Kawaun Jakes[/db], "but he's probably not even thinking too much about it. He's just going to go out and do whatever he can do to help the team win. If he rushes for only 60 yards but catches three touchdown passes and he doesn't break the record, it doesn't matter. Bobby is just out to win."
The second key to victory for the Tops this weekend is to stop the Troy passing attack. Led by quarterback [db]Corey Robinson[/db], the Trojans are ranked first in the Sun Belt and 18th in the FBS in passing offense. Robinson will look to hook-up with go to wide receiver [db]Eric Thomas[/db] who has caught 51 passes for 709 yards and nine touchdowns on the season.
While Robinson has thrown for 2797 yards and 17 touchdowns on the season, he is interception prone as he thrown 11 interceptions on the season. To go along with Robinson's 11 picks, Troy has committed 13 fumbles and is -7 in the turnover margin, which is second to last in the Sun Belt conference. The WKU defense led by [db]Andrew Jackson[/db], [db]Bo Adebayo[/db], [db]Derrius Brooks[/db], and [db]Tyree Robinson[/db] will have to put pressure on Robinson and force turnovers if they want to extend their season.
The final key to success for the Tops is to finish the job. At 6-1 in the conference, WKU still has a chance to win a share of the conference championship with a win and an Arkansas State loss to Louisiana-Monroe. While they cannot control the outcome of the Arkansas State game, they can take care of business at home. The team is bowl eligible at 6-5, but with the loss to Indiana State as well Arkansas State and Louisiana-Lafayette already accepting bowl bids to the only bowls with Sun Belt tie-ins, a 7-5 record looks much more appealing than a 6-6 record.
"We hear a lot about bowls because it's the first time we've been bowl eligible," said junior safety [db]Kareem Peterson[/db]. "We have to take it one game at a time. If we don't beat Troy, that's out the door. There's no thought about a bowl game. I knew this was going to happen, but I didn't know it would happen this soon. It came real fast. At the beginning of the year we struggled, and we turned it around. I'm happy we were able to turn it around, and to say we're bowl eligible is real big."
This is without a doubt the biggest game in the history of the WKU football program with the only exception being the 2002 I-AA National Championship. On that day almost nine years ago, the Tops took care of business and came out on top. I expect this team to do the same. WKU defeats Troy and solidifies their bowl eligibility by a score of 38-24. Look for Bobby to go out in style.