Last week was an unforgettable for WKU. The Tops snapped a dreadful 18 game home losing streak as well as a four game Homecoming losing streak with a 42-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette. To make things sweeter, the win came against the top team in the Sun Belt conference. While players and fans alike will never forget the night that was Homecoming 2011, that game is in the past. The Tops must get back to business as they travel to face Louisiana-Monroe.
"We all strive to be better than we were yesterday," said sophomore defensive back Tyree Robinson. "All we do in practice is go hard every day. Everybody is just continuing to get better, and it's rolling over into game day."
Heading into their contest with the Warhawks of ULM, WKU finds itself in sole possession of third place in the conference standings, their highest position since becoming a full time member of the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Tops also look to put together their first four game winning streak since 2005 when they defeated Indiana State, Illinois State, Missouri State, and Western Illinois.
The last time pulled off a four game win streak WKU started the streak with back-to-to back wins over Indiana State and Illinois State. They followed up those games by defeating Missouri State on homecoming before picking up their fourth win on the road against Western Illinois. The Tops can parallel that streak with a win at Monroe, but they will be the first to tell anyone they will have to earn it.
"We are going to prepare like we have been preparing the last three weeks and hopefully continue to get the same results," said head coach Willie Taggart. Again, it is not about whom we are playing or whether we are the underdogs. We know it is going to be a battle every Saturday. We have to play them, and we are at their place and they beat us last year, so we are trying to go back and repay the favor."
In last year's contest, WKU looked to have the game in the bag against ULM as they entered the fourth quarter with a 24-7 lead. Those happy thoughts quickly dwindled as the Warhawks outscored the Tops 28-6 in the fourth quarter to walk away with the 35-30 win. On that day running back Bobby Rainey led the way for the offense carrying the ball 32 times for 169 yards and two scores while wide receiver Marcus Vasquez caught six passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
The thing that hurt the Tops on that evening was turnovers. While they only committed one turnover, ULM made it count as they took a Kawaun Jakes pass 55 yards for a touchdown to put the game away. Since that time Jakes has really stepped up his play, which is a big reason why WKU is currently riding a three game win streak.
"Kawaun understands the offense a lot better," said Taggart. "He is able to get guys in the right spot where they need to be on the field, and you see him doing that a lot more now. I think what you are seeing with Kawaun is that people around him are helping him now. You see a lot of guys stepping up, joining the playmaker club now, and more importantly our offensive line is playing a lot better, and that is a big part of why he is having some success, too."
One of the players who has stepped up and helped Jakes shoulder the load is junior tight end Jack Doyle. In last week's win over Louisiana-Lafayette, Doyle caught seven passes for a career-high 106 yards. Doyle as well as the other tight ends on the team stepped up big time in last weeks win as Mitchell Henry, Jim Murphee, Ryan Wallace, and Doyle accounted for 10 of the Tops' 16 receptions, 154 of the team's 273 receiving yards, and a touchdown.
While the offense has continued to put up solid numbers, the defense has bent but not been broken in recent weeks. While they did allow 440+ yards in three of their last four games, the defense has only given up an average of 20.5 points over that span. Led by sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson, senior defensive lineman Jared Clendenin, and senior defensive back Ryan Beard, the defense has made plays when they needed forcing five turnovers during this three game win streak. The defense also leads the conference in opponent's third down conversion rate (33%).
"Coach Guidry always says that turnovers can win games," said Robinson. "He says our focus on defense is to get three-and-outs, and we also need to get turnovers and give the offense good field position."
The defense will look to stop quarterback Kolton Browning who leads the Warhawks with six touchdown passes while averaging over 176 yards through the air per contest. Browning will look to hit wide receivers Brent Leonard and Tavarese Maye who both have 450+ yards and three touchdowns on the season. While ULM is only 2-5 on the season, they have shown flashes of brilliance including a 38-10 trashing of perennial Sun Belt powerhouse Troy.
WKU does have the benefit of road success as they have won four of their past six conference road games. Whether they are at home or on the road, the Tops are still looking to prove they are for real. A win Saturday will definitely show that they are contenders.
"We're just going to go out and play football," said Jakes. "Our goal is to win a Sun Belt championship. We are going to approach it the same way, no matter if it is a road or home game."
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