Higbee, Ferby emerge for WKU in Bloomington

Jonah Phillips

Jonah Phillips

At 2-1 to start out 2015, the season thus far has been a story of rising talents.

Redshirt senior tight end Tyler Higbee played in 10 games in 2014 with 14 catches for 226 yards and four touchdowns.

This season through three games, Higbee has emerged as redshirt senior Brandon Doughty’s top target, pulling in a team-high 22 receptions for 299 yards and two touchdowns.

Higbee’s 299 yards receiving is second most of any Hilltopper behind junior wide receiver Taywan Taylor’s 333 yards off 17 receptions. Both lead the Hilltoppers in receiving touchdowns with two apiece.

This method of moving the ball down the field is slightly different from the one seen last season, when former senior tight end Mitchell Henry pulled in 29 receptions in the regular season to become Doughty’s sixth-most-popular target. This is a stark contrast to this season, where Higbee is Doughty’s statistical No. 1.

The number of Higbee’s receptions is equally important to the timing of some of them.

Late in the third quarter of the Hilltoppers’ season opener against Vanderbilt, Higbee had a momentum-swinging reception for 65 yards to set senior running back Leon Allen up for a 4-yard touchdown run.

The reception came at a time where WKU was having trouble piercing through the tough SEC defense of Vanderbilt; it restored life to an offense that had been relatively stagnant to that point.

A week later against Louisiana Tech, Doughty’s first completion of the night went to Higbee for 14 yards. Despite giving up a fumble in the red zone on WKU’s second drive, Higbee was still pivotal in the Hilltopper offense as he led the team with seven receptions and tallied 88 yards. 

This past weekend at Indiana, he pulled in a career-high 11 receptions for 109 yards and a touchdown. That’s just three fewer receptions than he pulled in total last season.

Higbee’s emergence comes as a relief to Hilltopper fans who saw Henry graduate last season bouncing from the Green Bay Packers to the Denver Broncos.

The emergence also brings relief as redshirt senior wide receiver Jared Dangerfield, WKU’s top receiving threat last season with 64 receptions for 738 yards and 10 touchdowns, has been gingerly recovering from an injury since the preseason.

Will Hilltopper fans continue to see this style of offense? The future seems slightly unpredictable.

The offensive scheme may have looked very different if Dangerfield had been at full fitness and Leon Allen had not been ruled out for the season.

That isn’t to say redshirt freshman D’Andre Ferby hasn’t done an ample job filling in during Allen’s absence; he leads all Hilltoppers with three touchdowns.

The same goes for Taywan Taylor, who stepped into the No. 1 wide receiver spot when Dangerfield saw limited minutes.

Yet to say Ferby is a like-for-like replacement for Allen is a stretch, so  Brohm is still testing the limitations of his newfound, evolving offense, and Higbee has emerged as a quick answer to some big questions posed early in the season.

Allen ranked seventh in the NCAA last season in yards from scrimmage with 2,018. This was supposed to be his season to show why Brandon Doughty described him as “the most talented” between former WKU and current NFL running backs Antonio Andrews and Bobby Rainey.

Ferby, a relatively untested former Division II-AA Tennessee Mr. Football has big shoes to fill in his first season of action after being redshirted, but on the receiving end of things, Higbee looks poised to carry the load in his senior campaign.