WKU’s Homecoming win serves as timely confidence boost

Redshirt sophomore defensive back Branden Leston (45) attempts to tackle UTEP senior running back Josh Bell. Mike Clark/HERALD

Kyle Williams

With three games remaining on the regular-season schedule and with WKU’s bowl hopes still up in the air, Saturday’s Homecoming victory provided more than just a notch in the win column.

It got the Hilltoppers their swagger back.

It couldn’t have come at a better time, either, as WKU (4-5, 2-4 Conference USA) needs at least two more wins to become bowl eligible for the fourth consecutive season.

Following last week’s Thursday practice, Head Coach Jeff Brohm said he challenged his team to enter the UTEP matchup in playoff mode. The first-year head coach said it’s no different this week as the team prepares for its bout with Army on Saturday at 11 a.m.

“This past week, we wanted to put a little pressure on our guys and say, ‘Look, this is a playoff mentality, we have to win to advance,’” Brohm said. “We found a way to win. It wasn’t pretty, but guys stepped up when they had to. We’re taking the same approach this week. This is a game we have to win.”

The Black Knights (3-6) come into the matchup having secured a 35-21 win over Connecticut on Saturday via a strong triple-option attack; 325 of their 363 total yards against the Huskies came on the ground.

Army currently ranks No. 5 in the country in rushing yards per game at 298.1.

Brohm said the team’s meeting with Army last season and another triple-option team in Navy should prove to aid the Hilltoppers. The Midshipmen rushed for 412 yards in their 36-27 loss to the Hilltoppers in Annapolis, Maryland on Sept. 27.

“It’s beneficial,” Brohm said. “We played two (option teams) last year. We’ve done a whole lot of work preparing for that, we’ve done a whole lot of work this year preparing for it as well. We played decent against Navy. They still ran for a lot of yards. If you go back and watch, they had some guys open on play action they could have easily hit. …We have to have a good plan ready.”

In addition to a familiar game plan, the Hilltoppers will also have a boosted sense of confidence when they host the Black Knights, as all three units — defensive, offensive and special teams — played a large part in their 35-27 Homecoming win.

On defense, the Hilltoppers pitched a scoreless fourth quarter. Following redshirt junior defensive back Wonderful Terry’s 90-yard interception and touchdown return, the defensive unit held the Miners to two-straight three-and-outs and a turnover on downs.

“Honestly, I think it’s just relaxing and going out there and playing football,” senior linebacker Terran Williams said. “Just letting it all hang — just playing. Leaving everything out there. I think we showed flashes of that in the first couple games and we kind of died off from that. I think Saturday we put it all together.”

The Hilltoppers balanced out their solid defensive performance with a 388-yard outing on offense. Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw for 324 yards and three touchdowns after throwing four interceptions at Louisiana Tech the previous week.

Doughty’s statistical totals in four games at home this season are: 1,583 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions.

“In the LA Tech game, I was kind of not stepping into my throws, and I watched a lot of film, and they were beating up on quarterbacks, and I think that messed with me mentally,” Doughty said. “This week, I kind of watched the game as it went and just kind of wanted to step into my throws, step up in the pocket and do whatever I could to help our team win the game.”

Several pre-game festivities will take place on Saturday, headlined by President Gary Ransdell’s tandem jump with the U.S. Army Parachute Team, the Golden Knights. Ransdell will jump from 10,000 feet roughly 15 minutes before kickoff in order to deliver the game ball.