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By LARRY VAUGHT
Willie Taggart hopes Kentucky will see a noticeable difference in Western Kentucky Thursday compared to last year when the Wildcats blitzed the Hilltoppers 63-28.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Our guys got bigger and stronger and faster, and now itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s time to go on the football field and do something. The thing I want Kentucky to say after the game is that this team was totally different than what they played the year before,Ã¢â‚¬Â said the Western Kentucky coach.
Western did break a 26-game losing streak last year, but still finished just 2-10 andÃ‚Â last in the Sun Belt Conference standings. Taggart has brought in a new defensive coordinator, new offensive coordinator and two new position coaches in hopes of moving the program forward. However, what could help Western more than anything is the return of highly-touted running back Bobby Rainey Ã¢â‚¬â€ he had 187 of 1,649 rushing yards against UK last season Ã¢â‚¬â€ along with quarterback Kawaun Jakes Ã¢â‚¬â€ he was 140-for-291 passing for 1,680 yards and 10 scores in 2010.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“Kawaun looks great. I felt good about Kawaun after the spring game. He looked amazing. HeÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s maturing, and he is understanding what his role is and what he has to do to make this team better,Ã¢â‚¬Â Rainey said.
Rainey led the nation in rushing attempts in 2010 with 340 and averaged 137.42 yards per game. He went for 100 or more yards in WesternÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s last five game. He likes the idea of Thursday nightÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s game at NashvilleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s L.P. Field being on ESPNU and being on the only college game played at that time.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“All the attention is on us,Ã¢â‚¬Â Rainey said. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Who wouldnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t want to show up and be that guy? All eyes on us. If we beat them, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re good. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a rivalry, and to have it televised in front of a nice crowd on a nice field, is huge. Everybody is excited about the whole thing Ã¢â‚¬â€œ television, Titans stadium, big crowd. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all exciting.Ã¢â‚¬Â
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips still remembers Rainey wrecking his defense last season and heÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s on the Doak Walker, Maxwell and Paul Hornung watch lists going into the season.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“He’s a great back. He makes people miss. He runs through tackles. He knows how to run around you. He can run over you. That’s a huge challenge,Ã¢â‚¬Â Phillips said.
Taggart, a former Western quarterback and assistant starting his second season as head coach, is apprehensive against Kentucky, which returns 10 defensive starters and six offensive starters off last yearÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s 6-7 BBVA Compass Bowl team.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“They are good (on defense). TheyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re fast. They are big and athletic, which you anticipate with them being an SEC team. They changed it up, so I think what we will see will be a little different than what we saw last year. I expect to see a lot of speed,Ã¢â‚¬Â Taggart said.
He says there is a bit of an unknown factor with UKÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s offense after the departure of 2010 stars Randall Cobb, Derrick Locke,Ã¢â‚¬Ë†Mike Hartline and Chris Matthews. The defense also add some intrigue with the addition of Rick Minter, a more aggressive coach than previous coordinator Steve Brown, as coordinator.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“YouÃ¢â‚¬â„¢d like to know going in, but like I tell our football players Ã¢â‚¬â€ if we just do what we do and understand what we do and block our routes, we can block anything they show us. Our guys have got to understand that. Just be really good at what you do and be sound and disciplined in what you do, and it will get there.Ã¢â‚¬Â