“Back to the drawing board” | Hilltoppers fall to Indiana 38-35, move to 2-1 on the season

Western Kentucky wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) tip toes out of bounds in the first half against Indiana, during a NCAA game at Memorial Field, in Bloomington, Ind., Sept. 19. Michael Noble Jr./HERALD

Billy Rutledge

The Hilltoppers entered Saturday’s game at Indiana with high hopes, coming into their clash with Big 10 opponent Indiana University off their first conference victory of the season over Louisiana Tech.

But the Hoosiers had other plans and kept the WKU football team winless against Big 10 programs in school history.

WKU was bested in a 38-35 shootout that featured career performances from both quarterbacks and poor play by both defensive units. WKU (2-1) drops to 0-3 against Indiana all-time, and its chances of an undefeated season have been swept away.

“We won our first two games by small margins and did everything right; we just have to get back to the drawing board,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said post-game. “I thought our guys played hard and we made plays, but we just came up short.”

The first half went in the Hilltoppers’ favor.

The WKU offense got off to a hot start as redshirt freshman running back D’Andre Ferby scored two rushing touchdowns in the first two quarters.

Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 352 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the first half to senior tight end Tyler Higbee and junior wide receiver Taywan Taylor.

During the second quarter, Doughty became WKU’s all-time leader in passing yards, passing Jeff Cesarone’s 8,566-yard mark.

The senior went on to throw for 484 yards and three touchdowns despite not leading his team to victory. IU’s quarterback Nate Sudfield did some good work as well, finishing with 355 yards and three passing touchdowns.

WKU jumped out to a 28-17 halftime lead, but the defense’s poor play in the second half led to the Hilltoppers’ demise.

“Well, for sure they came out in the second half, and they played better than us and they deserved to win,” Brohm said. “They executed on offense, did whatever they wanted — didn’t have to punt.”

WKU was outscored 21-7 in the second half. Yards against the Hilltopper defense totaled 639 for the game.

Doughty threw two interceptions that led to Hoosiers points in the third quarter while Indiana continued to dominate on the ground, outrushing the Hilltoppers 284-84.

“Unfortunately, we could still move it on offense, but we turned the ball over twice in a row,” Brohm said. “The first [interception] I thought we had a touchdown, just kind of under-threw it and led it inside. Then the second one we forced in there. Unfortunately for us, we don’t have that margin of error. We can’t do that.”

The Hilltoppers’ only points of the second half came with just under six minutes remaining in the game in the form of a 3-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to senior Jared Dangerfield.

“I think we made plays, our guys played hard, we just had two costly interceptions. They ran the ball at will and controlled the clock, so we didn’t get many possessions,” Brohm said. “I’d like to think we could stop the run better than that, but they have a good runner and a good offensive line. We couldn’t get it done.”

A blocked field goal attempt by WKU’s senior kicker Garrett Schwettman in the third quarter proved pivotal to the final outcome; it was his first miss of the season.

“I think we were down 10, so we could have gone for it. I think we wanted to get the points and be within one touchdown of tying the game up,” Brohm said. “Unfortunately, I don’t know if they got pushed, but I don’t think we had very good height on the ball and it got blocked easy. That was a momentum-swinger as well.”

Higbee finished the game with a team-high 11 catches, 109 yards and a touchdown while Taylor hauled in a career-high 196 yards and a touchdown of his own. Hoosier running back Jordan Howard finished the game with 203 yards on the ground.

The Hilltoppers’ next game will be Saturday at 2:30 p.m. at home against Miami (Ohio).