It has been over 300 days since the WKU football team has won a football game. While a good chunk of those days have been in preparation between the 2010 and 2011 season, it does not change the fact that it has been a long time since the Tops have won a football game.
The last time the team won a game was on Nov. 13, 2010 in what was one of the most thrilling games in the history of WKU football. Trailing 28-21 with just 50 seconds left, the Arkansas State punt team muffed a snap that gave the Tops new life. The Tops would go onto tie the game as time expired as Kawaun Jakes connected on a seven-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Willie McNeal to force overtime.
After giving up a touchdown to the Red Wolves on the first play of overtime, WKU would respond with a scoring drive capped off by a three-yard touchdown run by Bobby Rainey to make the score 35-34. Instead of kicking the extra point and sending the game into a second overtime, coach Willie Taggart decided to go for the win.
The Tops would win the game on a reverse to defensive back Derrius Brooks to give WKU the 36-35 win. If the 2011 team wants to repeat the success of the 2010 team, they will have to take similar risks.
The Tops should be fresh coming into their first conference game of the season after they had the week off last week following their loss to 44-16 Indiana State back on Sept. 17.
"It was just a chance for us to get better and to evaluate our football program," said head coach Willie Taggart. "[We were able to] see where we can make some improvement and again, get our football team to play like they are capable of playing. We haven't done that in those first three ball games."
The team returned to the basics following two very sloppy losses against two very beatable teams at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
"We went back to the basics as far as hitting and being live," said senior running back Bobby Rainey. "It didn't matter if we liked it or not - that was what we needed. Practices were intense. We needed that because we have not been playing to our potential."
The lack of fundamental play was not only a focus for the players but the coaches as well. The past two losses have been filled with missed assignments and mental mistakes that had a big impact on the scoreboard.
"That was something that was killing our football team the first three ball games," said Taggart. "We did not tackle well on defense, especially in those last two ball games, and offensively turning the ball over, putting the ball on the ground. Those are fundamental things that we worked really hard on. Those are things that killed our ball club in those first three ball games, and we feel like if we can correct those things we will have a different outcome."
Looking at the 2011 Arkansas State squad, there is no question who their big guns are. The Red Wolves are led by quarterback Ryan Aplin who has thrown for 989 yards and four scores so far this season. Aplin had a good game against WKU last season as he completed 27-39 passes for 306 yards and three touchdowns. If the Tops' defense wants to stop the Red Wolves, they must stop Aplin.
"[Aplin] is the real deal. He is the real deal," said Taggart. "He is the commander-in-chief of that offense and does a really good job of getting rid of the ball. As an offense, they do a good job of staying out of third-and-long situations."
When Aplin puts the ball into the air, he will look to target receiver Dwayne Frampton. Frampton lead the Red Wolves with 25 catches for 333 yards and one score. As the biggest X-Factor for his team, WKU must stop this potent wide out if they want to end their home losing streak.
The X-Factor for the Tops for this game is junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes. After redshirt freshmen Brandon Doughty went down with a season-ending knee injury, Jakes played decent against Indiana State completing over 70% of his passes for 237 yards and two scores. Jakes must limit his turnovers against the Red Wolves if WKU wants to come away with the victory.
The Tops will look to make history in two ways on Saturday. First, Bobby Rainey will look to set the school record for most consecutive 100-yard rushing games as his streak has amassed eight straight games dating back to last season. The bigger of the opportunities is the daunting home losing streak, which now sits at 17 games. Will both records fall this weekend? Only time will tell.