Bragging Rights | Productive offense leads to big win over rival MTSU

WKU’s wide receiver Antwane Grant (3) makes a catch in front of Middle Tennessee’s cornerback Alex Dale (2) during the Hilltoppers’ 58-28 win Saturday at Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

It had been 26 years since the Hilltoppers defeated Middle Tennessee State University in Bowling Green. That streak ended Saturday.

WKU (5-1, 3-0) dominated its rival from the very beginning, besting the Blue Raiders 58-28 after a high-flying, 52-point first half of offensive performance.

The win improved the Hilltoppers’ conference record to 3-0 for the first time in the FBS era, and their 5-1 overall record is the program’s best start since 2012.

WKU also received the most votes in the AP Top 25 in program history with five following the win.

“This win feels good; I’m not going to lie. It’s a very rewarding victory,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “We felt MTSU is a very good football team, and we still think they are. For our guys to come out in the first half and play like that, I couldn’t be any happier or prouder of them.”

Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw all five of his touchdown passes in the first half and finished with 359 yards.

Statistically, junior receiver Taywan Taylor continued being one of the best receivers in college football, finishing with six catches for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow junior Nicholas Norris tallied six catches for 148 yards and a touchdown.

After suffering a 50-47 triple-overtime defeat to MTSU last season, WKU players expressed after the game how it was nice to pull out the win.

“It’s a huge win. We really worked hard this week, and we practiced pissed off again,” Doughty said. “Anytime you can get a rivalry win like that at home, that’s our goal: to protect the Houch [the stadium].”

After Doughty connected with Norris for a 59-yard screen pass, freshman running back D’Andre Ferby found the end zone for the first score of the day: a 6-yard touchdown rush to put the Hilltoppers up 7-0 after the game’s first drive.

After forcing a punt on MTSU’s first drive of the game, the second Hilltopper drive ended in points as well as Doughty found senior tight end Tyler Higbee on a 43-yard touchdown reception on a pass over the middle.

The scoring in the first quarter wasn’t over yet as Doughty found Norris twice on the drive. The first was a 32-yard reception into the red zone, and the very next play was a 10-yard touchdown reception.

The Hilltoppers took a 21-0 lead only six minutes into the game.

The Blue Raiders responded with a nine-play, 82-yard drive that ended in Jeremiah Bryson’s 28-yard rushing touchdown: MTSU’s first points of the game and one of the day’s four touchdowns.

The final touchdown of the quarter came from a 28-yard strike from Doughty to junior receiver Taywan Taylor, putting WKU up 28-7. 

To start the second quarter, Doughty found Taylor for the second time that day for a 9-yard touchdown reception.

The Blue Raiders’ only other scoring during the half occurred when MTSU freshman quarterback Brent Stockstill found Richie James on a 30-yard touchdown reception.

WKU reached into its playbook and immediately responded with a 69-yard touchdown connection on a wide receiver pass. Sophomore Nacarius Fant caught a screen and threw the ball to Taylor for Taylor’s third touchdown of the day, which put the Hilltoppers up 42-14.

The Hilltoppers recovered an onside kick late in the first half that led to a 31-yard field goal by senior kicker Garrett Schwettman, putting the Hilltoppers up 52-14 at halftime.

“When you get out to an early lead, it helps everybody,” Brohm said. “We try to be aggressive early on; we try to take shots. We have playmakers on offense that have gotten it done. We are protecting well, trying to be creative and [to] have fun with it. When we get up with a lead, it helps everybody. Without question, that’s important for us.”

MTSU scored two second-half touchdowns as Stocksill threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the game while Blue Raider receiver Richie James finished with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

Redshirt junior Anthony “Ace” Wales returned to 2014 form on Saturday. Coming back from a hamstring injury that held him out of the first four games of the season, he tallied a career high of 19 carries and totaled over 100 rushing yards for the second time in his career.

Next the Hilltoppers play North Texas on Oct. 15 in Denton, Texas. It will be the first of three consecutive away games.