By Zach Greenwell
After four days of Western’s quarterback situation sitting at a stalemate, Head Coach Willie Taggart said after Friday’s practice that there’s finally been some separation.
Taggart said junior Matt Pelesasa and incumbent starter Kawaun Jakes have lifted themselves slightly above true freshman Brandon Doughty.
“I would say Jakes and Matt are really close, and Brandon’s coming, but he’s not far,” Taggart said. “For him to be a freshman and this be new to him, he’s picking it up well, and that speaks volumes of the kid. You’ve got three guys you can probably do something with in our offense, and it has to be that way.”
Pelesasa earned most of the team’s reps in the spring while Jakes was out with an injured ankle.
Doughty, a Rivals three-star recruit from Florida, has closed the gap to the returnees faster than expected, Taggart said.
But while a tight race is healthy for competition, Taggart said someone will eventually have to break away from the pack.
“Guys go out and make good throws, and then the other will come in and do one, and that’s what it’s going to be about,” he said. “We’re not anywhere close to naming one because of how close they are. But one of them’s going to have to separate himself because we’re only going to have one quarterback.”
One of the biggest highlights of Friday’s practice was the role of different running backs in Western’s passing game.
Junior backs Bobby Rainey and Avery Hibbitt caught several passes from each of the team’s three quarterbacks throughout the day.
Rainey had the most thrilling — a reception of at least 40 yards for a touchdown from Pelesasa.
Pelesasa scrambled out of the pocket and threw the desperation pass to Rainey off his back foot, but Rainey hauled it in on a vertical route for the score.
Hibbitt, a former Bowling Green High School standout, was also heavily involved in the offense, catching several slants across the middle for good gains.
“He’s really good with the ball in his hands, and we’ve got to do a good job as a coaching staff of putting the ball in his hands and let him do what he’s good at,” Taggart said of Hibbitt. “That’s why we put him back there, and I think he’s excited about it because it lets him do what he does best.”
Hibbitt was recruited as a running back by the Western coaches – including Taggart during his first stint in Bowling Green– but eventually switched to the defensive backfield. It was announced at Monday’s first practice that Hibbitt has returned to his original position this season.
“I think Avery knew he’s an offensive player,” Taggart said. “I told him, ‘I just don’t see the emotion in you … playing defensive back.’ He’s showing it out there, and his teammates are starting to see it.”
If Taggart has it his way, the added complexity in the receiving game won’t end with Rainey and Hibbitt.
Taggart said the West Coast offense allows a team to exploit all kinds of mismatches, which will be the Toppers’ ‘bread and butter.’
“You can utilize all of your skill guys to make plays for us,” he said. “We’ve got to do that with mismatches and stuff. It’ll help us out as a football team to be able to do that, and to get in some passing formations without getting in the pass formation. It’s great to be able to get out three-wide and not have three receivers in there.
“To me, it goes back to backyard ball. Don’t think a lot, and act like you’re in the backyard — run a five-yard cut and then put a move on them. Those guys are catching on to that, and it’s good because we had a successful day throwing the ball to the backs.”
Getting hyped on D
When freshman defensive back Ty Scott intercepted Doughty during an 11-on-11 drill, Taggart said he heard one thing that concerned him — silence.
“I told our defense, ‘When you guys do something, I want you to celebrate. You got an interception and no one said anything.’ I don’t like that. That’s what we’re out there to do, and that’s big-time stuff. I don’t care if it’s in a practice or a game – you’re out here working hard to do it, so go celebrate with them.”
Senior linebacker Thomas Majors agreed that the defense wasn’t as amped as the day before.
“It wasn’t a bad practice, but it wasn’t where we needed to be at,” Majors said. “We had a lot of enthusiasm yesterday, and I think we need to keep that every day. We didn’t take a step back, but we just need to keep the juice when we’re out there on the field.”
“Juice” has been Taggart’s new go-to catchphrase this fall — the new “Chasing Greatness,” if you will. Several of the players — like Majors — have adopted the term, but Taggart said he wants them to show it on the field as well.
“Don’t just act like, ‘That’s what we do,’ and walk off,” he said. “That doesn’t happen all the time, so when it does, let’s have fun together as a team.”