LINCOLN, Neb. — Willie Taggart’s dream come true didn’t exactly work out the way he might have hoped on the scoreboard.
The former Hilltopper standout quarterback ran onto a football field for the first time Saturday as the head coach at Western Kentucky at Memorial Stadium in Lincoln, Neb.
And while the result brought about the latest in a long string of losses for the WKU football program, Taggart was still able to find enjoyment in a historic evening.
“It was surreal,” Taggart said after the game. “To be honest, I didn’t really know what to do, I just ran out with the guys and told them, ‘Let’s have a little fun today.’
“I started to ask (Nebraska coach Bo Pelini) what I should say to him after the game. I’m not used to it. But it was fun. I thought I’d be nervous, but I didn’t get to that point because I thought we were prepared.”
Once he took the field and got adjusted, Taggart said, the evening turned into another football game for him.
He did admit that he gave himself a moment to let it soak in before kickoff that his dream of becoming an NCAA Football Bowl Subdivision coach had come to fruition.
“Before I gave the pregame speech, I had to take a minute and just breathe in a little bit,” he said. “But it was fun. It was another football game, I was just making a lot more decisions than I ever have before.”
Taggart’s players said that although they were upset they couldn’t give their first-year head coach a win in his debut, they’re more than happy to have him on their side.
“Playing for coach Taggart is an honor because of what he’s done and what he’s accomplished,” WKU junior running back Bobby Rainey said. “He was positive about everything today, and that’s how you have to be when you’re playing a team like this. You can’t get down. If he’s down, it doesn’t look good for us.
“But we’ve got his back.”
Heavy dose of Rainey
After having a career day in just about every major statistical category Saturday, Rainey said the stats really didn’t matter.
“The yards don’t matter if you don’t come out with a win,” said Rainey, who finished with 30 carries for 155 yards and a touchdown. “I saw some holes, I just took advantage of it.
“But I’ve got to start out like that from now on, so we’ll be in a better position.”
The 155-yard rushing performance gives Rainey three 100-yard games in his last four outings, dating to last season. He was the only running back on the Hilltopper roster - outside of one carry from fullback Rod Johnson - to handle the football Saturday.
“I told Bobby that with this offense, he really has a chance to be special,” Taggart said. “Not just running, but catching also - he could have a lot of games like that.
“But not just Bobby, our offensive line should get a lot of confidence from doing some of the things we did out there against a defense like Nebraska.”
Crowd rattles Hilltoppers
After getting off to a dreadful start defensively, WKU senior inside linebacker Thomas Majors suspected that the Memorial Stadium crowd might have played a big role.
Attendance was announced as 85,555, the ninth-largest ever at Memorial Stadium.
“Defensively, a lot of us were shocked by the crowd and how many people were there,” Majors said. “It took us a while to settle down and start playing.”
Taggart said that he got the same sense following the game, and added that intimidation from an opposing crowd can’t be an excuse moving forward.
“Some guys let it bother them a lot, and it happens,” Taggart said. “They played against Tennessee last year and that was the only crowd they’ve seen that big, but we still could’ve played a lot better regardless of what the crowd was doing.
“We’ve just got to execute at the beginning.”
Extra points - Nebraska didn’t waste any time adding to its consecutive sellout streak, as the game was declared the school’s 305th sellout three hours before the opening kick. … Taylor Martinez, who earned the start after a highly publicized quarterback competition, became the first Nebraska quarterback to rush for 100 yards since 2003. … WKU has not won a season opener since beating West Virginia Tech 63-3 in 2005.
— Read WKU beat writer Nick Baumgardner’s Hilltopper blog at bgdnwkublog.wordpress.com.