WKU itching to prove worth in Homecoming matchup with UTEP

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) drops back for a pass during the third quarter of WKU’s Oct. 25 game against Old Dominion. Doughty went 23 of 26 for 371 yards and five touchdowns, leading WKU to a 66-51 victory over the Monarchs. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Kyle Williams

It’s business as usual for WKU football this week as it prepares for its Homecoming bout with the University of Texas at El Paso on Saturday at 3 p.m.

Although the Hilltoppers (3-5, 1-4 Conference USA) put forth their worst effort of the season this past Saturday in a 59-10 loss at Louisiana Tech, you’d never know it if you watched the team’s Tuesday practice.

“You think when we lose a game like we did last week, guys would be down, you’d be out here at practice trying to pull teeth,” offensive coordinator Tyson Helton said after Tuesday’s practice. “It was the exact opposite — guys were fired up, they have something to prove. They’re trying to get out there and win a football game. That was really good to see today. We just have to carry that momentum into the game and I think we will.”

That momentum will be necessary, as the Hilltoppers’ Homecoming matchup will be anything but a walk in the park.

The Miners field the league’s second-best rushing offense at 207.8 yards per game while coming in at fourth in pass defense at 208.4 yards per game.

Helton is one of few members of the WKU football program that’s encountered UTEP at some point in his career — three times as special teams coach at Hawaii, twice when he was tight ends/special teams coach at Memphis and two additional times as the quarterbacks coach at UAB.

Helton said the Hilltoppers will have to open up the passing game with a sound rushing attack in order to be effective on offense against the Miners. Junior running back Leon Allen led WKU with 80 yards on 14 carries at LA Tech.

“We have to be able to run the football on first and second down and get out of third-and-long scenarios,” Helton said. “That’s going to help a lot with the coverages. Then, have to help protect the quarterback, give him some time back there, and then Brandon (Doughty) has to make the reads and throw it with a timely manner. If we do those three things, we’ll be fine.”

Sophomore running back Aaron Jones, having compiled 1,697 rushing yards in 17 career games, is the spark plug of the Miner offense. Jones ranks third on the conference’s rushing yards list this season with 886 and leads UTEP with 10 total touchdowns — eight rushing and two receiving.

The Miner defense ranks sixth overall in total yards allowed per game in league play at 391.1. UTEP is coming off a 35-14 win over Southern Miss that yielded five forced turnovers, which increased its turnover ratio to +9 on the season — best in the conference and 10th-best in the country.

The Hilltoppers committed a season-high five turnovers on Saturday, which included four interceptions by redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.

“Obviously, ball security is key,” Helton said. “Past couple games, (UTEP) has fired it up — their defense is playing well. They’ve had turnovers and that’s won them the game. Last week, their offense really didn’t have to put a lot of points on the board, their defense and special teams did it for them, so we have to protect the ball.”

With four games remaining on the regular-season schedule, WKU football is itching to prove its worth, and according to sophomore wide receiver Taywan Taylor, the Hilltopper seniors deserve every bit.

“It’s all about coming together as a team,” Taylor said. “Our leaders, they’re stepping up, they know it’s getting close — especially our seniors. That’s ultimately what we’re trying to do; we’re trying to play for the seniors. Just send those guys out the right way because they deserve it. We’re just trying to come in with a good attitude these last four weeks and just put it all on the line.”