WKU ready for showdown with North Texas

Senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris (15) attempts to stiff arm FIU cornerback Xavier Hines (27) while running with the ball during the Hilltoppers’ 49-21 win over FIU on Saturday, Nov. 5, at Smith Stadium. Jeff Brown/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

After picking up its seventh win of the season last week against Florida International University, the WKU football team (7-3, 5-1 Conference USA) is rolling into its final home game of the season with a one-game lead in the C-USA East division as the Hilltoppers prepare to take on North Texas on Saturday at 2:30 p.m.

The Mean Green (4-5, 2-3 C-USA) are currently on a two-game skid, but Head Coach Jeff Brohm continues to preach to his team the “one-game season” philosophy that has gotten the Hilltoppers back to the top of the conference thanks to a four-game winning streak.

“It’s very pivotal for us,” senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor said. “We know we still have everything on the line and we still control our own destiny at this point. We just want to come in and look at every game as a business trip and take it one game at a time like coach Brohm says.”

The last time the two teams met in 2015, WKU ran away with it in the first half, defeating the Mean Green 55-28 in Denton, Texas. With improvements from UNT on both sides of the ball, however, this year’s contest figures to be a bit more competitive.

“On offense they’re going to spread us out somewhat similar to Middle Tennessee and La. Tech and get the ball on the perimeter, run the quarterback some,” Head Coach Brohm said. “Those are all things that have been challenging to our defense this year and the past, so we’ve got to prepare for that, and it’ll be a good challenge for us.”

One thing Brohm and quarterbacks coach Brian Brohm both mentioned was the speed and complexity that the Mean Green pass defense plays with.

“They give a lot of pressures,” Brian Brohm said. “They bring a pressure about 30 percent of the time so it’s going to be a challenge for our line and quarterback to get the ball out of his hands.”

UNT gives up just 208 passing yards per game, but also cedes over 200 yards rushing on average to its opponents — something that did not fare well for the Mean Green in last year’s meeting with the Hilltoppers.

Redshirt senior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales ran for 193 rushing yards and two touchdowns in last year’s meeting, and has found his groove as of late, rushing for over 354 yards and eight touchdowns in the last three games combined.

“We know a lot of people know that we want to go out there and throw the ball so when you can go out there and run the ball as well, it’s hard for defense to know what to do,” Wales said. “They don’t know whether to back people up or put people up front. We like to be diverse on offense.”

Wales has been a big reason why Jeff Brohm’s offense is reaching its full potential in the home stretch of the regular season schedule, as it has the past two seasons.

The senior starter is currently second in the nation with 17 rushing touchdowns, trailing only Louisville quarterback and Heisman frontrunner Lamar Jackson who has 19.

“I really think it’s his character,” Wales said of Brohm’s ability to extract as much as possible from the offense. “Coach Brohm is a coach that you love playing for. Why wouldn’t you want to go out there and score touchdowns for this man?”

Wales isn’t the only one who will potentially be playing his last game in Smith Stadium on Saturday.

Taylor, another main cog in Brohm’s prolific system, says it’ll be “bittersweet” on Saturday, but mentioned staying focused on the task at hand is the only thing he’s worried about.

“We’re feeling good,” Taylor said. “We won these past few games but we know that North Texas is going to come in swinging at us because we have a target on our backs, so we just want to come in for these seniors — it’s my last game here and it’s bittersweet — and for all of us and we want to come in and go out with a win for our last home game.”

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