Hilltoppers looking to keep bowl eligibility alive against FIU

WKU’s Garland LaFrance (14) dodges a tackle during WKU’s game against Maine at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Saturday, Sept. 8, 2018. (Mike Clark / Herald)

Matt Stahl

After losing in bizarre fashion to Old Dominion, the Hilltoppers (1-6, 0-3 Conference USA), are down to their last chance to maintain bowl eligibility against Florida International.

The game will be the anchor of WKU’s Homecoming week activities.
“A lot of places Homecoming is just kind of a formality,” head coach Mike Sanford said at Thursday’s Homecoming chili cheese luncheon. “Here at WKU there’s a difference. There’s a difference on campus. The parade, the chili cookout [Thursday], you sense the pride that the alumni of this university have.”

The team will do its best to send the alumni home happy, despite facing an FIU team that has gone 5-2, 3-0 in C-USA thus far.


“We want to put a great product on the field,” Sanford said. “Particularly on Saturday night. The fan base and these alums, they deserve it, but most importantly our players deserve it and I think we’ve worked towards that goal this week with a decisiveness to get done what we need to get done.”

On the defensive side of the ball for the Hilltoppers, the team will have to contend with an FIU offense that has averaged 35.9 points and 425.6 yards per game. The WKU defense has looked shaky at times this season, especially in crunch time, giving up long drives in the fourth quarter against both ODU and Marshall.

WKU sophomore defensive end DeAngelo Malone, who has two sacks on the season, spoke of some of the Hilltoppers’ keys to victory.
“Just keep the hands up for us,” Malone said. “Read screens, stuff like that. They’re a big screen team so we just stop that, we’ll get that pressure on the quarterback.”

Malone said that the team was particularly inspired by homecoming week.
“Coach has touched on just finishing the game,” Malone said. “That’s what we’ve got to do. We’re not worried about no rankings or nothing. We just come to play and play hard.”

On the offensive side of the ball, WKU seemed to find its footing in the run game last week, going for a total of 207 yards on the ground, mostly split between redshirt freshman Joshua Samuel and freshman Gino Appleberry, who had the first run of over 20 yards by a running back in the Sanford era. Appleberry spoke about some of the work he has put in to acclimate to the college game.

“Over the summer I was just trying to get into the playbook,” Appleberry said. “I only had two classes over the summer so I just focused on learning the plays more than anything.”

Appleberry spoke very highly of Samuel, who led the team in rushing with 87 yards against ODU.

“Josh, he’s hard-working,” Appleberry said. “He’s patient when he runs the ball, he’s physical and explosive. I feel like we’ve both got similar qualities and we’re just working right now. We’re just trying to eat, we’re trying to compete against each other.”

The game begins at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. The game will also be available to watch on beIN Sports.