Tops learning how to survive and advance

Hilltopper’s head coach Jeff Brohm looks on as quarterback Brandon Doughty readies to hut the ball during Saturday’s game against Army at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

It only took 10 games, but it seems that things are finally clicking for Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s Hilltoppers.

Luckily for WKU, there’s a lot to play for, even with just two games left on the schedule.

Much of the talk from the offices the past two weeks has been about this playoff mentality and an increased intensity in game preparation.

It was just a few weeks ago when there was a definitive difference in the level of execution between the offense and defense. WKU’s offense knew in order to win, it had to score on every single possession because their cohorts on defense weren’t going to stop a nosebleed.

It was also during that time you saw a 10, 17 or even a 24-point lead after halftime, and you knew it wasn’t enough. Playing for four quarters was something this team could not do — that goes for both sides of the ball.

Saturday’s 52-24 win over Army gave WKU its first back-to-back wins this season. There’s a newfound confidence in the team, and it resonates for a whole 60 minutes.

So whatever they’re doing, it’s working.

“To see our defense shut some guys out in the fourth quarter and play hard is good to see,” Brohm said. “To see our offense do some things that we haven’t done as well lately as far as running the ball and running for big yards and moving the chains and controlling the clock, that definitely helps our team.”

Before this three-game homestand, WKU had held only one opponent to under 30 points (27 vs. Navy). Then, the Hilltoppers held UTEP to 27 points on Homecoming and 24 against Army. For the third-straight contest, they’ve held the opposition scoreless in the fourth quarter.

Whatever is happening is also feeding over to the offense. All of a sudden, redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty doesn’t have to throw for a gazillion yards a gazillion times. After the team only rushed for 34 yards against UTEP, junior running back Leon Allen punished Army’s defense with three touchdowns and a Conference USA single-game rushing record of 345 yards.

It must be nice when the team comes around full circle.

“I feel like everyone is starting to trust each other more,” redshirt junior defensive end Gavin Rocker said. “It’s a confidence builder when we’re playing games where we don’t feel like, ‘Here we go again,’ when someone scores. We have to fix it and it’s been helping us.”

When a team gets in a rhythm under pressure situations like this, some crazy things can happen, and I mean that in a good way.

It reminds me of the year the New York Giants won Super Bowl XLVI. They started out 6-2 in 2011 before losing four straight to drop to .500. They snuck into a wild card spot in the playoffs and beat the New England Patriots for the Super Bowl. Four years before that, they went 4-4 in the last half of the year and got hot in the playoffs to defeat New England, which was 18-0 heading into Super Bowl XLII.

Now, by no means am I predicting that WKU is going to win out its season and win a bowl game. It’s only to show what can happen when a team is firing on all cylinders at the right time.

“What I wanted to do when we were sitting there at 3-5 is put a little pressure on our team and let them understand that we’re really in a playoff mentality,” Brohm said. “We have to win football games if we want to think about advancing. I think our guys have kind of enjoyed that.”

As if the possibility of reaching bowl eligibility isn’t enough, it’ll be Senior Day for 18 members of this team. They’ve seen the lows of a 2-10 season and the highs of experiencing playing in the postseason.

They know how to survive. Now they have to advance.