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October 18, 2008The hump is still there.
Progress has been made in the past three games, but the Toppers can't seem to climb over it.
Though it had a ten-point lead in the second quarter, it evaporated quickly as WKU fell at home to Florida Atlantic 24-20. The loss snaps the Toppers' 13 winning seasons, as they slip to 2-6.
"It's a familiar tune in that we're close," coach David Elson said. "We had some opportunities and just simply didn't find a way to get it done."
Things looked up early.
Down 7-3 in the second quarter, junior running back Marell Booker reeled off a 37-yard run for a touchdown. After an FAU punt, junior running back Tyrell Hayden pulled off a big run as well. Five plays into the drive, Hayden rumbled 64 yards for a touchdown and WKU would go up 17-7.
On the first play of the Owls' next drive, senior running back Charles Pierre ran 74 yards for a touchdown.
"You've gotta give credit to their game plan and their linemen, for executing it obviously well," senior defensive end Dan Cline said. "They got outside and got it around the defensive end. They crack blocked the outside linebacker so good blocks by them. You've gotta give them credit. Their offensive line only gave up 15 sacks last season and that was the best in the Sun Belt. Ypou put Pierre back there and they can do some things. I think it's their talent, but I think they did a good job and credit them."
Though Booker and Hayden pushed the Toppers to 240 yards on the ground, they had to do it for the most part without redshirt freshman running back Bobby Rainey, who left in the second quarter with a right knee strain.
Elson had no other updates on Rainey after the game.
"We came out and we were hitting on all cylinders," Booker said. "We were al on the same page. I don't know if we had any missed assignments. Everything feel like, they were in correlation with each other. We played good as a team, as an offense."
FAU junior quarterback Rusty Smith became the second quarterback in as many games that the Toppers held in check. Smith finished with 174 yards and a touchdown on 15-23 passing. He'd entered the game averaging 227.5 yards per game.
But as big a night as WKU had on the ground, they were equaled by FAU. Most of the damage came from Pierre, who rushed for 192 yards on 24 carries.
"Our defensive philosophy is always stop the run first and that will lend itself to third and long situations and so forth," Cline said. "There was a couple of blocks that they hadn't shown previously. You've gotta come with that unknown each and every week. We reacted well to it, but not well enough."
The Toppers rushed the ball 41 times in the game.
Late in the third quarter, WKU threatened at the Owls 16 yard line. Rolling left, sophomore quarterback Dexter Taylor threw into triple coverage to Stephen Willis in the back of the end zone. The pass was picked off, with FAU's ensuing drive resulting in a 23-yard field goal by senior kicker Warley Leroy that sealed the game.
"I'm trying to step back and look at the big picture, from this football program's standpoint," Cline said. "These are growing pains. We're going from I-AA to I-A and you're gonna have these growing pains as we transition into this process. That's exactly what it is. All we've gotta do is respond to this adversity with the same attitude and mindset that we have the past losses this season. Business will take care of itself."
One of the few teams to play every weekend since the opening game, the Toppers have a bye this weekend before they host North Texas for homecoming on Nov. 1.
"We have a 24 hour rule," Cline said. "Let it burn for 24 hours, then on to the next opponent. We've done a tremendous job of that this season. You've gotta credit this team. This is the closest team I've been a part of in the last five years. I think that, in itself, has gotten us through these tough times. We'll continue to gain success in the following weeks to end the season. Looking back at the end of the season, on Dec. 6, we're gonna go out and we're gonna win some games in the next couple of weeks in the Sun Belt and it's all attributed to that closeness."