Vanderbilt results point towards interesting La. Tech matchup

WKU’s wide receiver Jared Dangerfield (21) celebrates the Hilltoppers’ 14-12 win against Vanderbilt University during the final seconds of the game Thursday at Vanderbilt Stadium in Nashville. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Jonah Phillips

As lackluster as the Hilltoppers’ success in Nashville may have been, the Tops will look to take it into tonight’s game against a team that completely dominated WKU last season. 

The Hilltoppers put forth an unconvincing offensive effort on the road in their season-opener, managing just 246 yards of total offense. But their offensive performance wasn’t a complete loss.  

Quarterback Brandon Doughty and the offense showed a sense of maturity. After being frustratingly shut out in the first half for the first time since 2013, they evolved in the second half and managed two touchdown-earning drives, which were good enough for the win. 

Whether it was Vanderbilt’s defense showing up in the first half or WKU’s offense showing up late to the game, it took a while for the Hilltopper offense to find its rhythm.

“They were a good defense. Obviously we didn’t play as up to par as we would have liked, but we got the W and came out 1 and 0,” senior tight end Tyler Higbee, who pulled in the game-winning touchdown, said.

“We weren’t playing up to par, and we have excelled before; we know we are better than that,” Higbee added. “It was frustrating at times, and you know sometimes you just have to step up and make plays, and that is what we were lacking in the beginning of the game.”

Higbee was a bright spot in a less-than-glamorous Hilltopper offense, and his linkup play with Doughty proved the difference in the second half.  Higbee recorded four receptions for 102 yards and a touchdown, including a 65-yard reception that breathed life into a stagnant offense. 

Doughty said the key to success in the second half was keeping calm in the face of adversity and sticking to what the team knew they could accomplish.

“It was frustrating. We just had to stick to the game plan and really execute … We had a lot of guys who were having their first time really getting into the fire and against an SEC team,” Doughty said. “They had to settle down, and I think they did. We just got back to the game plan, got back to what we were doing, and it slowed down a little bit for us in the second half.”

While the offense will certainly look to make large-scale improvements for tonight’s game, the defense will look to build off its staunch performance against an SEC opponent on the road. 

No one can deny the defense kept the Hilltoppers in contention throughout the game, and that kind of pressure is foreign to a defense that struggled to stay on the field in 2014. 

“We didn’t think about that too much. We just go out there and do our thing. We knew our offense was going to score points—put some points on the board. We just needed to go out there, execute, fly around and have fun, and we had fun tonight,” senior linebacker Nick Holt said. “I think that is part of the reason we played so well. We were having a lot of fun playing together.”

Now the question arises as to whether WKU—a team that looked shaky at best in its win last week—can take that win and build on it going up against Louisiana Tech, a team that defeated WKU 59-10 last year. 

If WKU is to enter the contest with any momentum at all, La. Tech, who won 62-15 in its season opener last week against Southern University, will match that momentum. 

WKU was held to 246 yards of total offense versus Vanderbilt, and La. Tech held Southern to 281 yards of total offense. Yardage-wise, Southern was more productive than the Hilltoppers last week, and they still lost by 47 points. 

But the WKU defense has strengthened since the two teams clashed last season. This game, then, has the potential to bring much more excitement than last year’s blowout. 

If the Hilltoppers can muster a win, they will be 2-0 for the first time since 2005.