CFN Take: WKU Collapses To FAU
2014 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers - Head Coach: Jeff Brahm
Oct. 18 at Florida Atlantic 45, WKU 38
Aug. 29 Bowling Green
Sep. 6 at Illinois L 42-34
Sep. 13 at MT L 50-47 3OT
Sep. 20 OPEN DATE
Sep. 27 at Navy W 36-27
Oct. 4 UAB L 42-39
Oct. 11 OPEN DATE
Oct. 18 at Fla Atlantic L 45-38
Oct. 25 Old Dominion
Nov. 1 at Louisiana Tech
Nov. 8 UTEP
Nov. 15 Army
Nov. 22 UTSA
Nov. 28 at Marshall
And You Care Because … FAU roared back in the fourth quarter with 17 unanswered points on a Greg Joseph field goal and a four-yard Greg Howell run to tie it, and less than a minute later, after a WKU three-and-out, Jaquez Johnson found Lucky Whitehead for a 61-yard touchdown to take the lead for good. The FAU recovered a fumble on WKU’s final shot, and the comeback was complete. WKU was rolling early, with Brandon Doughty throwing three touchdown passes and Leon Allen running for two scores, but FAU stayed alive with two Johnson touchdown passes – including a 20-yarder to Whitehead – and a one-yard run before the wild fourth quarter rally.
What Else? Total yards: Florida Atlantic 619 – WKU 402
- FAU QB Jaquez Johnson completed 23-of-34 passes for 325 yards and three touchdowns, and ran 17 times for 95 yards and two scores
- FAU WR Lucky Whitehead caught eight passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns
- WKU QB Brandon Doughty completed 28-of-44 passes for 335 yards and three touchdowns with an interception
Game Rating: A-
Oct. 4 UAB 42, at WKU 39
And You Care Because … UAB opened up the fun with Jamarcus Nelson returning the kickoff for a touchdown, and the fireworks didn’t stop. Down 13, the Blazers roared back in the second half with 21 straight points highlighted by a 75-yard touchdown catch from Josh Magee, but WKU answered with Brandon Doughty finding a Antwane Grant for a 24-yard score and Ricardo Singh returned an interception 85 yards for a score and the lead. UAB answered, taking the lead for good on Jordan Howard’s second touchdown run of the day. The offenses stopped over the final 12 minutes with the Blazers hanging on. Anthony Wales scored three times for the Hilltoppers.
What Else? Total yards: UAB 591 – WKU 503
- UAB RB Jordan Howard ran 34 times for 183 yards and two touchdowns
- WKU RB Anthony Wales ran 14 times for 138 yards and three touchdowns
- WKU QB Brandon Doughty completed 25-of-37 passes for 319 yards and two scores, and UAB QB Cody Clements completed 22-of-25 passes for 300 yards and two touchdowns with an interception
Game Rating: B
Sept. 27 WKU 36, at Navy 27
And You Care Because … WKU was up two late helped by a run of 16 straight second half points with a 31-yard Jared Dangerfield touchdown catch, Garrett Schwettman’s third field goal, and a one-yard run from Brandon Doughty, but Navy roared back with a two-yard Keenan Reynolds touchdown run to pull within two. The conversion failed, but Reynolds and the offense had one final shot. WKU’s Wonderful Terry put an end to the fun with a 43-yard pick six in the final minute. Reynolds ran for two touchdowns, but he had a horrific game throwing the ball, while Doughty threw 54 times and finished with two touchdown passes.
What Else? Navy QB Keenan Reynolds completed 3-of-14 passes for 55 yards and a pick, and ran 24 times for 121 yards and two touchdowns
- WKU QB Brandon Doughty completed 38-of-54 passes for 387 yards and two touchdowns with a pick and a rushing score
- Navy rushing yards: 412 – WKU total yards 551
- Third down conversions: WKU 7-of-15 – Navy 2-of-11
Game Rating: B+
Sept. 13 at Middle Tennessee 50, WKU 47 3OT
And You Care Because … In the third overtime, WKU got a 27-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal, but Middle Tennessee answered with a 25-yard Ed’Marques Batties touchdown catch to end a wild game. WKU put it into overtime on a 24-yard Schwettman field goal, and then the two teams started trading punches in overtime with Austin Grammer running for a score for MT, and Brandon Doughty, who threw for 593 yards, found Mitchell Henry for a 25-yard score. Grammer ran for three touchdowns, for the Blue Raiders including a 59-yarder to start the fun.
What Else? WKU put up 718 yards of total offense in the loss. Brandon Doughty completed 43-of-66 passes for 593 yards and four scores with a pick.
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 17-of-28 passes for 218 yards and a score, and he ran 19 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
- Three different WKU receivers went over 100 yards, led by Nicholas Norris and his six catches for 174 yards and one score.
- Middle Tennessee ran for 323 yards and five scores, averaging 5.3 yards per pop.
Game Rating: A
Sept. 6 at Illinois 42, WKU 34
And You Care Because … Illinois scored 21 straight points in the fourth quarter helped by a 62-yard touchdown pass to Justin Hardee followed up by a 77-yard pick six from Taylor Barton, and closed out with a one-yard Donovonn Young scoring play. WKU held 17-7 lead and took a 27-21 lead into the fourth quarter highlighted by a 95-yard fumble return for a score from Wonderful Terry in the third quarter, but the offense couldn’t mount a late rally to answer.
What Else? In a battle of quarterbacks, Illinois’ Wes Lunt completed 35-of-50 passes for 456 yards and three touchdowns with a pick, while WKU’s Brandon Doughty completed 28-of-48 passes for 297 yards and two scores with a pick.
- WKU LB Nick Holt led all tacklers with 12 stops and two tackles for loss.
- The Illinois running game was stuffed. The offense fell on the passing of Lunt, but there wasn’t much to help him out with just 64 yards on 35 carries.
- Illinois controlled the game in the second half, holding on to the ball for 21:50
Game Rating: B
Aug. 29 at WKU 59, Bowling Green 31
And You Care Because …Brandon Doughty threw six touchdown passes including two in the first 27 minutes on the way to a 21-0 lead, and WKU wasn’t stopped the rest of the way going up 31-10 in the first half. Bowling Green made it a little bit interesting in the second half pulling within 14, but Doughty put the game away with two more scoring passes on to close out two 77-yard drives.
What Else? From WKU head coach Jeff Brohm, “everything went extremely well.” You think? With 702 yards of total offense against a team that prided itself on decent defense last season, the Hilltoppers showed that there’s life after Bobby Petrino. Now the expectations suddenly change, and WKU looks like a dangerous threat to be a player in the Conference USA race. It was one game, but it was a flawless performance on both sides of the ball.
- Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson completed 25-of-36 passes for 314 yards and a score, and Travis Greene ran for 91 yards and a touchdown, but don’t be fooled by the numbers – WKU stuffed the Falcon attack early when it mattered.
- WKU QB Brandon Doughty was throwing darts, completing 46-of-56 passes for 569 yards and six touchdowns. Taywan Taylor caught 12 passes for 185 yards and a score. Against Illinois – a team with a potentially dangerous passing game and no secondary - expect even more fireworks.
- This loss is devastating for the MAC. NIU might still be the star – even if it didn’t win the conference title – but Bowling Green is the defending champion and it didn’t even show up defensively. New head coach Dino Babers has to figure something out defensively with Indiana coming up in a few weeks.
Game Rating: B
The Hilltoppers knew they were renting Bobby Petrino, but they still hoped to have him around for longer than a year.
Petrino returned to Louisville, creating an opportunity for former Cardinals QB Jeff Brohm to become a head coach for the first time. In Brohm, Western Kentucky has the next best thing at the helm. More than just an up-and-comer in the coaching ranks, he’s an up-and-comer with intimate knowledge of the Topper personnel. Brohm spent last season coordinating Petrino’s offense, which smashed 18 single-season school records. So, continuity won’t be as problematic as it typically is following coaching changes.
Brohm takes the reins of a Western Kentucky team that went 8-4 a year ago and is beginning life as one of the newest members of Conference USA. For the staff, the offseason focus has been about finding new leaders and new starters for a roster that lost most of last year’s All-Sun Belt performers to graduation or early entry into the NFL.
The move to Conference USA is significant for the Tops. Better competition. A little more exposure. But even more important will be the improved access to the postseason. Western Kentucky has appeared in just one bowl game, the 2012 Little Caesars Bowl, despite finishing above .500 in each of the last three seasons. Conference USA, in stark contrast to the Sun Belt, boasts six automatic bowl bids, one of which WKU hopes to snatch in December.
If the Hilltoppers are going to play beyond the regular season finale, they’ll need a handful of former role players to step up their games in 2014. Petrino isn’t the only key figure who’s no longer on campus. Five First Team All-Sun Belt performers are gone, including RB Antonio Andrews, who rushed more than 1,700 yards in each of the last two seasons. Someone will have to pick up the offensive slack. Someone, say, like erratic QB Brandon Doughty. After throwing as many interceptions as touchdowns in 2013, Doughty has been the pet project of Brohm and new offensive coordinator Tyson Helton throughout this offseason.
For the second straight year, Western Kentucky is adapting to a new head coach after the old one left for a better gig. The difference this time is that Brohm is no stranger to the campus or the players. He’s looking to enhance what Petrino and Willie Taggart started, while quickly getting accustomed to the new surroundings of Conference USA.
What to watch for on offense: The competition up front. The Hilltoppers are replacing three offensive linemen, none more important than all-star LG Luis Polanco. Forrest Lamp will anchor the tackles, and Cam Clemmons is a rock at right guard. The other three regulars, though, are up in the air. Fingers are crossed that Max Halpin and Darrell Williams can improve upon their debut seasons. As redshirt freshmen, Halpin and Williams received a crash course in blocking, starting six and three games, respectively, in 2013.
What to watch for on defense: Newcomers will be expected to crack the two-deep. After being gutted by graduation, there aren’t many sure-things on defense for coordinator Nick Holt. CB Cam Thomas and linemen Gavin Rocker, Devante Terrell and Bryan Shorter are expected to regain their jobs. After the quartet? Competition for jobs will be stiff right up until the end of August. LB Dejon Brown, a transfer from Mt. San Jacinto (Calif.) Community College, is an example of a signee who’ll be counted on to bolster an overhauled corps of linebackers.
The team will be far better if … it stops being so careless with the ball. QB Brandon Doughty threw too many picks. RB Antonio Andrews put the ball on the grass too often. The end game was a team that ranked 119th nationally in turnovers. Obviously, Doughty has got to make better decisions this fall, but flipping turnover margin will be a collaborative effort at Western Kentucky. With so many new starters being broken in, this team can longer afford to put its D in impossible situations.
The Schedule: The Hilltoppers have an interesting non-conference slate, getting to start out the season against defending MAC champion Bowling Green before going to Illinois. Navy and Army will test the run defense, with the game against Midshipmen the third in a brutal run of four road games in five dates. The payoff comes late with three straight November home games before closing out at Marshall with only six days of rest.
Missing defending Conference USA champion Rice from the West helps, and it's all
about the interdivisional play for a while in November with Louisiana Tech, UTEP
and UTSA to deal with.
Best offensive Player: Senior WR Willie McNeal. No one is more important to the success of the 2014 Toppers than QB Brandon Doughty. And no one will positively impact Doughty’s senior year than McNeal. No. 10 is a quarterback’s best friend, experienced, sure-handed and capable of turning nothing into something. McNeal has had a solid three-season career as Western Kentucky’s most explosive wide receiver. Now that he and Doughty have had a full campaign together, they’ll feed off one another, while clicking on at least 50 connections and six touchdowns.
Best defensive Player: Senior CB Cam Thomas. Forget Thomas’ numbers, which were impressive enough in 2013. His value to the Toppers extends far beyond a box score. He’s so long, lean and instinctive in pass defense that it discourages quarterbacks from testing his side of the field. Rather than challenge Thomas, opponents opted for a more conservative approach. Star S Jonathan Dowling left school with a year of eligibility remaining. Thomas remained on The Hill, giving Western Kentucky a next-level defensive back for a second straight year.
Key player to a successful season: Senior QB Brandon Doughty. How important is it that Doughty performs with more confidence and accuracy this season? In 2013, the Toppers were 0-3 when he threw more than one pick. When he was intercepted no more than once, Western Kentucky went 8-1. For this program to take another step forward, it must get better consistency from the quarterback position. Doughty has the talent, supporting cast and coaching to turn things around and become the undisputed leader of the attack.
The season will be a success if ... the Hilltoppers earn their second bowl berth in school history. It’s going to be a season of challenges for Western Kentucky, from the new league and staff to the wholesale lineup changes. But Brohm is uniquely positioned to surprise in his first year as the head coach. He has a senior starter at quarterback, and his program has learned to thrive following three winning seasons in a row. And unlike the past few years, seven wins in the regular season ought to be good enough to land that coveted postseason invitation.
Key game: Aug. 28 vs. Bowling Green. One game does not make a season. But one well-placed victory can do wonders for a program in transition. While every team wants to start fast, it’s especially important for a Hilltopper squad beginning anew in so many key areas. Bowling Green won 10 games last season, and will be expected to again compete for the MAC title. If Western Kentucky can deliver an upset in front of the home crowd, the Brohm era will be off to a rousing start.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Passer rating: Western Kentucky 134.47 – Opponents 117.10
- Turnovers: Western Kentucky 31 – Opponents 21
- Sacks: Western Kentucky 27 – Opponents 20
- 2014 WKU Preview -
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