It was tough to find many nice things to say about the WKU offense after the first three games.
The Toppers mustered 27 points, threw for 274 yards, no passing touchdowns, converted on just nine of 39 third down conversions and were forced to punt 19 times.
Then, a jolt came at Navy.
With redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes at the helm, things started to click. But it also went back to a simple mindset that WKU instilled before going to Navy.
"I think what was different was, we had a lot more fun," junior wide receiver Quinterrance Cooper said. "That was the gameplan going into the game, was just stop thinking so much and let loose and have fun. It showed on the field. We got out there and we moved the ball pretty good and it felt like everything flowed, everything was hitting on all cylinders. We were just gonna come out with it."
Jakes was a cool customer himself, getting the offense and himself in a rhythm from the get-go. He completed all but one of his first 12 passes and finished the day 22-29 for 276 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
"He threw the ball well, he made good decisions in both the passing game and the run game," coach David Elson said. "He made some poor decisions too, so he wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination. Overall, I think when you just look at the accuracy and the production we had from the offense, that's the quarterback's job is to get the offense going and he did that."
Elson's sentiment of plenty of work still to be done is echoed by Jakes, who said that he realizes he hasn't fully earned the job yet. For that, he's not letting anything go to his head.
"I'm kind of a humble guy," he said. "I've been like that my whole life. I'll never be proud of myself, I just wanna be better than anyone, so I just come out, work hard and do all the little things."
Jakes knows that he might not have gotten the chance to start just yet if not for the injury to senior Brandon Smith, who started the first three games. Smith is still nursing a strained shoulder.
But Jakes brings a few new elements to the offense. He made crisp passes, hit his target and scrambled for 44 yards. He also gave the offense a shot in the arm.
"I bring leadership," he said. "I'm always trying to pump the guys up. Sometimes, when we get down, we get down ourselves. I'm just trying to keep the guys energized, so I bring enthusiasm and keep 'em going."
For all that he did good, Jakes also showed his inexperience. He fumbled the exchange from center on the Toppers' first possession of the game and was off in a few of his quarterback duties.
"Just consistent decision-making in the run game, whenever it's the zone read and those things and, just being consistent with the play calling," Elson said. "One of the offsides was on him more than it was on Wes Jeffries, because he said the wrong thing, when it comes to what the cadence was. Being consistent with all the little things when it comes to signals, play calls, adjustments at the line of scrimmage, those things."
Jakes has given a huge boost to the passing game. Not only did he throw for more yards since Justin Haddix three years ago, but he also completed passes to 11 receivers. There's also a good bit of continuity there as well.
"That's why we practice everyday, so we can get that chemistry down," Cooper said. "If something happens like it did with Brandon, Kawaun can jump in and they'll be no time lost, no mixup or anything like that. We can just go in and we'll be clicking. He's an emotional guy, he leads by example and that's what triggered everybody."
Jakes has high expectations of himself. He said that he's never comfortable with his performance and that there's always work to be done, for he and the entire offense.
"It's just getting in the end zone and not making mistakes," he said. "I know everything's not gonna be perfect, but me, I like to be perfect. Just coming out, not having any miscues, work on footwork, fundamentals and everything and just leading the team."
But Jakes is keeping the same frame of mind as his teammates. Even though a win has yet to come for some time now, it's a matter of staying loose.
"Just come out and have fun," he said. "It's just a game. You know you wanna win, but at the end it's just a game. Just come out here, have fun and be with your teammates. Just get a laugh and enjoy being around these dudes."