Coming into their game with FIU, WKU kickers were a combined 3-12 on the season. Things did not get any better for the Tops' kickers as they went just 1-3 against the Golden Panthers; however, the one they hit was all they needed as senior kicker and Bowling Green native Casey Tinius nailed a 34 yarder as time expired to give WKU a 10-9 win and their fifth win in a row.
"That [kick] has been a long time coming," said Tinius. "When you stop and think about it, that should be a kick you have no hesitation about making it, and for coach to send us out there, it should be make at least 90% of the time. With what my teammates do on a daily basis, I can't be mentally scared about kicking a ball. I don't ever get touched in practice, I don't ever get touched in a game. [My teammates] are the ones putting their bodies on the line, so mentally that's your as a kicker. I just try to stay strong mentally and not let things get in my head, and I am glad I had a clear head on that [kick]."
The story of the day was the stinginess of the Tops' defense as they allowed just 180 yards of total offense. Coming into this game, FIU was averaging 406 yards of total offense. Multiple things contributed to dominating defense of WKU.
The first reason for the success of the WKU defense was the time of possession battle. The Tops were able to gas the FIU defense holding the ball for 35:46 compared to the Golden Panthers' 24:14.
"[Our controlling the clock] is huge," sang Taggart. "I think that you will see all year that we've been doing that. That's part of our philosophy, and what we've been trying to do as an offense. The longer we hold the ball the fresher our defense will be."
One of the things that contributed to that discrepancy was the play of senior running back Bobby Rainey as his 28 carries for 155 yards kept numerous drives alive for the offense. With his performance Rainey moved past head coach Willie Taggart for second place in rushing yards in team history and became just the second player in team history to surpass the 4,000 yard mark.
In addition to Bobby's solid performance, the WKU offense put up 324 yards of offense. While quarterback Kawaun Jakes was just 8-24 passing with an interception, he was able to throw for 143 yards. The Tops' wide receivers were able to help out Jakes as seven different players made catches led by Rico Brown who caught two passes for 51 yards on the day.
Despite their ability to move to ball around the field, the offense was plagued by stalled drives and missed opportunities. Starting kicker Jesse Roy was 0-2 on the day on field goals and the team missed another field goal opportunity early in the game when Ryan Beard had a hard time corralling a high snap and was forced to make the attempt on fourth down.
"It was frustrating [not being able to put up points]," said Rainey, "but we just got to stay the course and continue to grind. We got good field position, we just couldn't put any points up, and the credit goes to the defense. We wouldn't have been in that position if the defense didn't do their job. "
Another thing that contributed to the difference in the time of possession was the first downs. In the game WKU racked up 22 first downs compared to FIU's eight. Golden Panther penalties also helped out the Tops as FIU penalties resulted in four first downs for the Tops.
The other reason for the WKU victory was their limiting big plays for the Golden Panthers and limiting FIU star T.Y. Hilton to just 32 yards on two catches for the day. The biggest play of the day for FIU came in the first quarter when Hilton returned a kickoff 58 yards to the Tops' 38 yard line that set up a field goal that cut the WKU lead to 7-6. Other than Hilton's kickoff return, the Golden Panthers had just two plays go for more than 20 yards.
"It was big time," said Taggart. We say defense wins championships, and that is what we are banking on: defense helping us win a championship. I think what you saw today was a team victory. It's not always the offense who's going to play well, and it's not always the defense who's going to play well, but we needed someone to play well, and the defense stepped up and took care of business."
With the win the Tops move above .500 for the first time as an FBS member and move just one win away from bowl eligibility. While this is a huge stepping stone for the program, WKU is not concerned with the just going to a bowl game and being above .500.
"[Being this close] is big," said a shocked Taggart. "Considering where we've been in the short amount of time we've been in [the FBS] and being able to put together some wins in the way we are doing it right now is impressive and good for our university. We've been at the bottom, and to fight your way out of it and put yourself in contention is remarkable. Our goal is to still win this conference. We need some help [from other teams], but that's our goal not just to be bowl eligible.
Sitting at 5-4 on the season and 5-1 in conference play, the Tops now must focus their next opponent, LSU-the number one team in the nation- as they travel to face the Tigers next week in front of a national TV audience. Coach Taggart and his team wasted no time in preparing as they took in the LSU-Alabama game after their defeat of FIU. Despite the odds, the coaches and players are content on shocking the world and doing everything they can against LSU.
"I am fired up, can't wait because I know that no one believes [we can beat them]," said Taggart. Nobody believes but us. We're going to be ready. With this I team, I don't know if it's football Gods or angels, but we got someone looking out for us, and we are on a mission. We're not looking to stop know. We're not going to lighten up, we're going to tighten up."