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Monday Luncheon Wrap-up

-Just got back from the WKU football Monday Media Luncheon–F.Y.I., leftovers from Saturday’s media dinner as the last two lunches are a sign of a down economy–and we got a few interesting thoughts and insights into both the Toppers 30-22 loss to Louisiana-Lafayette and the upcoming game at Middle Tennessee State from head coach David Elson, redshirt sophomore running back Bobby Rainey and redshirt junior Orlando Misaalefua.

Rainey and the offense are looking to capitalize on one of their most balanced games of the season, racking up 308 yards of offense–141 passing, 167 rushing–against ULL. The word from Rainey was that the offense had bright spots, but that the sour notes were more of a point of emphasis and the offense must start to capitalize on every possession.

“We got better in some areas and there are some areas we didn’t get better at,” Rainey said. “We got to convert and capitalize on every possession to keep the defense off the field.”

Misaalefua gave a defensive perspective that it’s the frustration has mounted with the team not being able to get third down stops, especially in crucial, late-game situations. Louisiana-Lafayette was able to get two consecutive third downs late in the game to prevent WKU from getting the ball back with a chance to tie on Saturday. Doing so against Sun Belt Conference opponents adds to the frustration.

“We have to get third down stops,” Misaalefua said. “We have to get off the field and so far we’ve been improving on that. And we have to get, defensive backs have got to get interceptions. Linebackers, we’ve got to get stops. D-Lineman, we’ve got to gush the quarterback, we’ve just got to play football.”

Things may get slightly easier against a Middle Tennessee team that is currently 30% (31-for-102) on the season on third down.

Elson shared the sentiment of Misaalefua, saying that just a handful of plays have been the difference in some of the games this season.

“Just different little things,” Elson said. “The touchdown in the endzone, (senior defensive back) Jihad (Morris) is right there. We’re close, and you know so, we want to be encouraged and motivated by that because it does get frustrating that you’re not doing enough to get into the win column. It’s a combination of ‘hey, we’ve obviously got some areas where we’ve got to improve’ but also a message of ‘hey, we’re close and we’ve played better in areas’ the decision making, the penalties were as good as they’ve been all year.”

WKU committed a season low two penalties for 15 yards.

Many are billing this game as a rivalry game from a fan perspective, and Elson said while agreeing with that, the game itself is in it’s years of rebuilding from a rivalry standpoint. MTSU coach Rick Stockstill stated before last seasons’s game that he doesn’t view it as a rivalry.

“It’s a fans thing,” Elson said. “His point was, and I totally understand where he’s coming from, you prepare for this game like you do any other game. That’s exactly the way we approach it. But from a historical standpoint and fans perspective , yea, it’s a rivalry, because of the geography and the (Ohio Valley Conference days).”

With the team getting so close in so many games–two of the last three games have been one-possession games in the second half–Elson said that as the season wears on, getting close isn’t going to be enough.

Nothing major on the injury front. Wide receiver Dustin Boyer has already been listed as out against for MTSU with a knee injury. Redshirt freshman tight end Jack Doyle, the team’s leader in receptions and yardage, is listed as day-to-day with nerve damage in his shoulder that Elson said just needs “rest and rehab”.

Junior offensive lineman Preston King, who left Saturday’s game and didn’t return, is still battling an ankle injury and is also a wait-and-see case. Redshirt junior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper will be evaluated this week in regards to his concussion. He missed last game with the injury.


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Jakes to start, Gaebler to return on Saturday

Coach David Elson said at today’s media luncheon that redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes will start Saturday’s game against Florida International.

Jakes was 22-for-28 for 276 yards and two touchdowns in his first career start, on Sept. 26 against Navy.

Elson said Jakes was able to be successful in part because of a simple game plan and improved play from the offensive line.

“He made the throws that he needed to make,” he said. “Early in the game, it was a lot of quick throws, play-action stuff that he executed well.”

Elson said that senior quarterback Brandon Smith still isn’t ready to play due to a shoulder injury, and he’s not sure if Smith will be able to serve as the backup on Saturday.

He also said senior wide receiver Jake Gaebler will also start on Saturday after missing games against Central Arkansas and Navy with an injured hamstring.

Other notes from the luncheon:

  • Elson said he doesn’t think the team plays any differently behind Jakes than with Smith under center. “The thing I’ve learned about guys is, they just want to win,” he said. “They just want the guys in there that, it doesn’t matter if it’s the quarterback or the left guard, if there’s guys in there that, he’s playing well and he’s serious and he’s preparing the way that he’s supposed to prepare, they’re going to accept him.”
  • Junior offensive lineman Preston King made a similar statement, saying the team’s game plan doesn’t change from one quarterback to the next. “We try to play as one unit, so it’s the same whoever’s out there,” he said.
  • King said Saturday’s game, which will be Western’s first-ever official Sun Belt Conference game, has a different feel because of the possibility of postseason play for the first time in two seasons. “It’s a lot different from the last couple years, when we were just trying to achieve our own team goals,” he said. “We’re trying to do that this year, but at the same time, our goals are to win the conference and to go to the New Orleans Bowl and win that, so it is different.”

– Sarah Hyman

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Point of emphasis: Reign in the physicality

Western came into practice last week looking to up the physicality after a 63-7 blowout loss at Tennessee. The Toppers came out fired up Saturday night for South Florida, but recorded 13 penalties for 124 yards—10 in the first half alone.

Junior offensive lineman Preston King said practice this week is about keeping the effort level up and the penalty yards down.

“We’re still playing physical, but being smart while playing physical,” King said.

Coach David Elson said he talked about the penalties to his team when looking over Saturday’s game film and said that he’s “confident that it will be corrected.”

Elson preached the same message as King — that Western needs to play smarter this Saturday against Central Arkansas.

“A lot of it had to do with effort,” Elson said. “We were just playing that hard and couldn’t let up, but we’ve got to learn to do that. We need to learn how to play at a really high intensity level but under control to where those things don’t happen.”

Also, after sitting out of Tuesday’s practice, freshman tight end Jack Doyle, senior center Cody Hughes, junior lineman Derrick Elder and sophomore defensive end Jared Clendenin all returned to the field on Wednesday. Senior receiver Jake Gaebler continues to nurse a pulled hamstring.

-Jonathan Lintner

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