Hilltoppers ready for big opportunity against No. 5 Tigers

WKU’s quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) gets ready to hand off the ball during the WKU Hilltoppers 58-28 win against the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders football game on Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

The WKU football team has a rare opportunity this weekend.

Riding a four-game win streak, it will travel to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, to face the Louisiana State University Tigers, ranked No. 5 nationally.

In WKU’s Football Bowl Subdivision era, the Hilltoppers are 1-3 against ranked opponents with all three losses having come against Top 10 opponents.

The Hilltoppers’ only win over a ranked opponent came last season against Marshall, then No. 19, in a 67-66 overtime thriller.

“It’s just a great opportunity for our guys to go out and have fun this week, cut it loose come game day and just really see how we measure up,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “I know our guys are excited. Any time you get a chance to play a team this good on their home turf — for us, it’s just a great opportunity to go out there and compete and have fun.”

WKU last played the Tigers in 2011. It fell in that game 42-9 against the No. 1 team in the country.

Although WKU trailed by only seven at halftime, LSU went on to dominate the rest of the game and defeated a Hilltopper team that included running back Bobby Rainey, tight end Jack Doyle and quarterback Kawaun Jakes.

This season, LSU (6-0, 4-0) is coming off a 35-28 victory over the No. 13 Florida Gators. The Tigers haven’t lost a nonconference regular season home game since 2000.

The Hilltopper defense will have its hands full with trying to stop LSU sophomore running back Leonard Fournette.

He is currently the front-runner for the Heisman Trophy and leads the nation in rushing yards with 1,203, rushing yards per game with 200.3 and touchdowns with 14.

“Without question, he’s the best running back in the country,” Brohm said. “From all the things I’ve read, he seems like a great young man. So all those qualities, I think, are exactly what you look for in a Heisman Trophy candidate.”

The Hilltoppers will be without redshirt senior tight end Tyler Higbee this weekend after he suffered a knee injury against North Texas.

Through the first seven games of the season, Higbee leads all FBS tight ends in receiving yards with 463, is tied for the most touchdowns with 6 and ranks third with 31 receptions.

He has been a consistent target in WKU’s third-ranked passing offense this year, finding the end zone in five of seven games and tallying at least 50 receiving yards in all but one contest.

“Losing Higbee, first of all, is very big for our offense just because he’s one of the main targets and one of the top tight ends in the country,” sophomore receiver Nacarius Fant said.

Fant is confident that there are Hilltoppers on the roster ready to fill in the gap left by the injured Higbee.

“There’s going to be people that are going to have to make up for his catches, his yards, and I feel like we have guys that can do that,” Fant said. “One player goes down, and another one steps up. Going into this game, there’s going to be someone that’s going to have to step up.”

Kickoff will be Saturday at 6:00 p.m. at Tiger Stadium and broadcast on ESPN-U. The Hilltoppers will expect a capacity crowd of 102,321 to watch them take on their second SEC opponent of the season.