Hilltoppers looking to refocus against conference foe

WKU’s running back Anthony Wales, 20, runs the ball during the Hilltopper’s 48-20 loss to LSU on Saturday at Tiger Stadium in Baton Rouge, La.

Billy Rutledge

After a missed opportunity in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, the WKU football team will look to rebound this week against a Conference USA foe.

The Old Dominion Monarchs (3-4, 1-2) will host the Hilltoppers (6-2, 4-0) for the ninth game of the season after coming off a 12-42 loss to fellow C-USA member Florida International University (4-4, 2-2) in Miami.

In refocusing his squad towards conference play, Head Coach Jeff Brohm knows now is the time for his team to return to the form that saw it win its previous four games in a row prior to last weekend, average 54.5 points per game and allow an average of just 20.

“It’s time to move on to the meat of our schedule,” Brohm said. “We’re back into conference play with a lot of important games ahead of us. There’s a lot to play for. It starts with a road game at Old Dominion, who does a good job of filling the stands. They will be into it.”

The Hilltoppers currently hold a seven-game winning streak, the fourth-longest active streak in the country, over C-USA opponents.

The game will mark the final contest of a three-game road trip, which included a 55-28 win against North Texas and, most recently, a 48-20 loss to LSU.

Much of the Hilltoppers’ success has come from starting games fast.

WKU has had halftime leads of 42, 25, 38 and 20 points in four of its last five games.

The Hilltoppers are outscoring their opponents 232-96 in the first half with an average halftime margin of 17 points, which currently ranks third in the nation.

The Hilltoppers are connecting off the field as well as on it. They have already reached bowl eligibility for the fifth consecutive season and are the first team in the state of Kentucky to do so.

“This team is just completely different from a lot of the other teams that have come through [WKU],” redshirt junior long snapper Nolan Dowling said. “I feel like we are more of a family. We’re more together, and so were the past teams, but we are all driven towards one goal. We’re all driven towards getting that Conference USA championship. We all want to be a part of something, and that’s what our family is.”

The Hilltoppers currently have the No. 4 passing offense in the nation compared to the Monarchs’ rank of No. 104. While WKU averages 396.6 yards through the air each game, Old Dominion averages 176.3. In turnover margin, the Hilltoppers are again ranked fourth in the nation while the Monarchs are ranked 93rd.

The Hilltoppers have only played the Monarchs one other time in program history. The game was a 66-51 victory last season, and it also happened to be the WKU football program’s first C-USA victory.

The Hilltoppers have never played at Old Dominion. The team has played in the state of Virginia only twice. Both were losses: one against Liberty in 1995 and another against Virginia Tech in 2008.

Brohm and his team will be careful not to underestimate this opponent.

“I think when you play an opponent like we did [at LSU], then you get back into conference play — yes, I am concerned,” Brohm said.

Even with his concerns, Brohm is confident in what he has seen out of his team since LSU and said he thinks his team is still on track to achieve the goals it set at the beginning of the season.

“We’ve talked about it a lot already. I think our guys understand that there is a lot to play for this season,” Brohm said. “Their goal is to be a champion. If you do that, you’re going to have to win and advance every week. Every game is important.”

The game will kick off at 11:00 a.m. on Saturday at S. B. Ballard Stadium in Norfolk, Virginia, where Old Dominion has sold out 45 consecutive games. The game will be televised nationally on Fox Sports Network.