WKU, La. Tech Set for Rematch in C-USA Championship

Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) runs into the endzone during WKU’ 45-7 victory over North Texas on Nov. 12, at Smith Stadium. WKU will take on LA Tech on Saturday in the C-USA Championship game. Brendan O’Hern/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

In early October, the WKU football team left Ruston, Louisiana, on the bitter end of a 55-52 score.

In a shootout that included 988 yards of total offense, Louisiana Tech handed the Hilltoppers their third loss of the season, leaving them sitting in the middle of the Conference USA East standings with a 3-3 record.

Now, eight weeks of football later, WKU (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) and La. Tech (8-4, 6-2 C-USA) are set for a rematch when the Bulldogs come to Bowling Green on Saturday with the conference championship on the line.

“This is a big game, and we enjoy playing in them,” WKU Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “The great part of it for us is we got them at home with our crowd behind us. It should be a reward for the season that we had.”

The WKU offense has yet to cool off since the last time these two teams met, as the Toppers have reeled off six straight wins behind an offense that claims the fifth-best points per game average at 44 per contest.

“They’ve continued to do what they do,” La. Tech Head Coach Skip Holtz said in a teleconference on Tuesday. “With Western Kentucky, they have a system, they have a program and they execute it very well. You just see them get better in all of the little things that they do.”

After the 107-point explosion between the two teams earlier this season, it only makes sense that the Bulldogs are tied with the Toppers at fifth in the country at 44 points per game too.

WKU junior quarterback Mike White put on a show with 340 yards and five touchdowns in the last meeting, only to be one-upped by La. Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins who threw for 114 more yards and five scores of his own.

“We’ve worked extremely hard to get better on a lot of things they defeated us on,” Brohm said. “They’ve got great speed. Last game they threw it over our head, we gave up too many big plays and they threw it on the perimeter too much. We’ve worked hard to try to take away those things over the course of the last five to six weeks. We have gotten better, but we haven’t faced a team like La. Tech since.”

Part of the reason Higgins was able to have so much success passing the ball is because of the Bulldogs’ pair of receiving threats in Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson who rank fourth and 11th nationally in total receiving yards, respectively.

“One of them is extremely fast, can run and get open downfield and is about as versatile as they come in Henderson,” Brohm said. “He’s tough.”

“Their slot receiver [Taylor] has produced every year,” Brohm continued. “He’s tough, physical, makes all the good catches and can get open. Those are two great weapons to have, very similar to our guys on our team.”

Taylor and Henderson accounted for 340 of the 561 yards gained on the Topper defense. Since then, the WKU defense has shored up some of those issues, allowing 65 less yards through the air and ranks eighth in the country in rush defense as well.

“Just all around, we didn’t play well on defense,” junior defensive tackle Chris Johnson said. “We weren’t tackling well, weren’t getting off our blocks. As a whole, we just needed to polish up and now we’ll be ready for Saturday.”

After thrashing Marshall 60-6 last week coming off a late bye week, Brohm’s offense couldn’t be much hotter coming into Saturday.

White and senior playmakers Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris and Anthony “Ace” Wales barely played into the second half with the Hilltoppers ahead 41-0 at halftime. White fired three touchdown passes to each of the aforementioned weapons, and Wales racked up 110 yards on the ground to go along with two scores.

“That’s what Western is so good at with their explosive plays,” Holtz said. “We’ve got to be smart with what we do. If they know we’re in man coverage, they’re gonna take you one-on-one and take some very explosive players and put them in space. We’ve just gotta be smart when we pick when we’re gonna blitz, when we’re gonna pressure when we’re going to play zone and when we’re gonna play man.”

With both teams stacking up evenly on paper, Brohm said the difference in the game could come down to turnovers.

WKU fumbled four times in Ruston, losing two of those loose balls which the Bulldogs went on to turn into seven points.

“At one point, we were 3-3 and in those six games we had 14 fumbles,” Brohm said. “In the last six games that we’ve had, we had two fumbles. So those things matter, and that’s probably going to determine the outcome of the game is who can take care of the ball the most because possessions will be crucial.”

With the home team taking the last matchup, the Toppers are fortunate to play host in the championship game for a second consecutive season.

“It’s just a great feeling that we get to pack the Houch one more time and have a chance to win another conference championship at home and be able to celebrate it with our fans,” Johnson said. “I think it’s very important that we start fast and jump on them and get our game going and make them play with us instead of us trying to play with them because it’s our home.”

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on Saturday, and the game will be televised on ESPNU.

Reporter Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.