WKU says it won't back down from No. 1 LSU
As far as Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart is concerned, No. 1 LSU is so loaded with pro prospects that one might as well call the Tigers ''a minor league NFL team.''
That doesn't mean Taggart expects the Hilltoppers to be intimidated when they enter Death Valley on Saturday night.
''It is a big opportunity for us,'' Taggart said this week. ''It is a great opportunity for our program and for our guys to go up and see how far we are from being the No. 1 team in the country.''
WKU (5-4) has won five straight and is contending for a Sun Belt Conference title, but oddsmakers still seem to think the gap between the Hilltoppers and LSU (9-0) remains pretty wide. The Tigers have been listed as nearly six-touchdown favorites against their homecoming opponent.
''Of course, no one is going to believe we can win,'' WKU tight end Jack Doyle said. ''They can say what they want. When it comes down to it, I am 21 years old, and they are 21. We both grew up the same way, why not play football together?''
LSU is coming off its biggest victory of the season, having edged Alabama 9-6 in overtime in front of a hostile crowd in Tuscaloosa.
The showdown between the Tigers and then-No.2 Crimson Tide had been billed as the most important regular season game of the 2011 college football season. Given the Southeastern Conference's run of five straight national titles, many even suggested it would effectively decide who'd represent the SEC in its bid for a sixth-straight national championship in New Orleans in January.
After a game of that magnitude, the Tigers know a letdown might be natural.
''You can't slack on anybody,'' LSU defensive tackle Bennie Logan said. ''Just because we came off a big win against Alabama it doesn't mean Western Kentucky is going to come in and just lay down.
''They're going to give us their best shot, so we've just got to be prepared for it.''
Indeed, all signs are that Taggart will try to give LSU the best competition the Hilltoppers can offer, rather than resting key players for their final stretch of conference play.
''I am a highly competitive guy, and I said from the beginning that we are chasing greatness and we are looking to catch some excellence this weekend,'' Taggart said.
Sitting out top players ''basically says you do not have a chance and you might as well not play,'' Taggart continued. ''If that is the case, we might as well just forfeit the game and not go out and play them. LSU, they are human beings. They put on pads and our guys are big, too. They have a 300-pound guy. We have 300-pound guys.''
So Logan and the rest of LSU's defensive front can expect a heavy dose of running back Bobby Rainey, who has 1,169 yards rushing and nine TDs rushing to go with 298 yards and three TDs receiving. He is one of the only two active college running backs with 4,000 career yards rushing. The other is Oregon's LaMichael James, who happened to have one of the worst games of his career against LSU earlier this season.
The Tigers' have been hard on every offense they've played this season, racking up 21 sacks and 13 interceptions.
LSU is no slouch offensively, either. Even after managing only three field goals at Alabama, the Tigers still are averaging about 36 points per game.
Rotating in running backs Spencer Ware, Michael Ford, Alfred Blue and others, LSU is averaging nearly 185 yards on the ground. Coach Les Miles also has made a two-quarterback system work. And although Jordan Jefferson played much more against Alabama than starter Jarrett Lee, who was pulled after two interceptions, Miles said both quarterbacks would continue to have significant roles.
If LSU wins, it'll mark Miles' 100th victory as a head coach and his 72nd win in less than seven seasons at LSU. It would also be the Tigers' 37th straight regular season triumph over a non-conference opponent, a steak that began in 2002.
The Tigers, who've been forced to play home games mostly during the day because of national TV commitments, said they were also excited about what will be only their second - and last - night game of the season in Death Valley.
''I've only got two games left there and this is going to be the last night game,'' senior guard Will Blackwell noted. ''There's just something special about that stadium at night. ... I'm glad we'll get back to that this weekend.''