The last time that WKU won five in a row came back in late 2004. Their fifth win in that streak came when they defeated Florida International in 35-14 in Miami. On that day almost seven years, the Tops put up 383 rushing yards and outscored the Golden Panthers 21-0 in the fourth quarter to provide the Tops with their fifth straight win. If the 2011 WKU football wants to extend their win streak to five games, they too must go through FIU; however, they get the opportunity to do so in front of their home fans.
"It is huge, and our guys have put themselves in the position where this game is huge," said head coach Willie Taggart. That is the beauty of it. We have to continue doing what we are doing and try to take care of business, and hopefully everybody else will take care of their part, too. It is a great opportunity for our football program and for our community and university, too. Why not? Why not make is special? Why not do it for our community and the city of Bowling Green and make it big because we can? It is a great opportunity this week against FIU."
One reason why the Tops have been able to keep this momentum rolling is the improvement of their offense. After starting the season 0-3, things have seemed to click for the offense from quarterback Kawaun Jakes, to the offensive line, to the offensive backfield, and the receivers and tight ends.
The epitome of consistency for the offense has been senior running back Bobby Rainey. So far this season, Rainey has already totaled 1,014 yards (6th in the FBS) and nine touchdowns (1st in the Sun Belt) on 233 rushing attempts (1st in the FBS) as well as hauling in a career high 29 catches for 286 yards and three scores. While he has been targeted week after week, Rainey has found ways to get the job done for his team.
While Rainey has been WKU's go to guy since last season, the difference this season as opposed to last season has been the help around him on the offensive side of the ball. After a slow start to the season, which included the loss of his starting position, quarterback Kawaun Jakes has stepped up big time for his team. So far this season, Jakes has thrown for 1,227 yards on 104-181 passing. While he has only thrown seven touchdowns as opposed to his 10 interceptions, he has thrown four touchdown passes as opposed to just two interceptions during his team's four game win streak.
A lot of other players have stepped up on the offensive side of the ball as well for the Tops. Junior tight end Jack Doyle leads the team and ranks 7th among FBS tight ends with 380 receiving. Sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones has help shoulder the running load with Rainey totaling six rushing touchdowns, which ranks second in the conference behind Rainey.
While the WKU offense has quietly got the job done this season, they must out perform one of the most explosive offenses in the conference.
"Offensively they have T.Y Hilton," said Taggart, "who is electrifying and can score any time he touches the ball, and I think they have a running back that is underrated in Kedrick Rhoades. I think that kid is really good, and for us it is another week where we are going to face a big-time quarterback in our conference, so it is going to be a challenge for our football team. A tremendous challenge and again, if we want to be the team that we want to be, then we have to be ready for that challenge because it is going to be a big one."
The center piece for the FIU offense is senior wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. So far this season, Hilton has tallied 800 receiving yards (18th in the FBS) as well as 360 return yards. Hilton's 1,242 all-purpose yards are good enough for second in the Sun Belt. WKU's Rainey leads the conference with 1,300 all-purpose yards. Hilton received some time in the national spot light after catching seven passes for 201 yards and two scores in FIU's 24-17 upset of Louisville. While Hilton has cooled off, he is the biggest threat from the wide receiver position in the Sun Belt and must be stopped if the Tops want to pick up the "W" on Saturday.
The keys to victory for WKU for this matchup against the Golden Panthers are 1) control the clock, 2) capitalize on offensive opportunities, and 3) prevent the big play.
The Tops lead the Sun Belt in time of possession this season having the ball an average of 33:19 a game. FIU sits in fourth place with an average of 30:25 per game. It is really hard for a team to win if they do not have the ball, and during their current win streak, WKU has had the ball longer than their opponents by a considerable margin.
Secondly, the Tops must capitalize on their opportunities. Last game, the Tops missed an extra point and a field goal that would have ended their game against ULM in regulation. They also allowed ULM to take the lead late in the fourth quarter when they muffed a punt return. WKU has proved they are for real, but if they want to keep winning, they must make every play count. They will not beat this very talented FIU team if they allow them to climb back into the game late.
Finally, with the explosiveness of the FIU offense, the Tops cannot allow big plays. Last game they allowed the Warhawks of ULM to force overtime with a big play on special teams and an eight second scoring drive at the end of regulation. With the abilities of T.Y. Hilton and the effectiveness of quarterback Wesley Carroll, FIU can score on teams in a hurry.
This is a huge game for WKU. A win will put them just one win away from gaining bowl eligibility for the first time in school history with just three games remaining. If they lose to FIU they must pick up two wins against either LSU, the nation's top-ranked team, North Texas, who has always found a way to beat the Tops, or Troy, the most consistent team in the conference. When the clock hits all zeroes, this game will be a solid contest. WKU wins this one 31-20 as the FIU pass defense continues to struggle and Bobby Rainey puts in another solid performance.