Hilltoppers answer the call on Homecoming

Junior running back Leon Allen (33) celebrates with teammates. The Hilltoppers defeated the UTEP Miners 35-27. Mike Clark/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

Last week I presented five questions for thought heading into WKU’s Homecoming game versus UTEP. While some were answered with a clear yes or no, other results remained ambiguous.

Question one: How will WKU’s offense respond?

Answer: That was almost a silly question considering what the Hilltopper offense has done all season. Coming off a season low in points (10) and yards (297) at LA Tech, redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty bounced back, throwing for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Sometimes you have one of those days, and the offense definitely had one of those days two weeks ago.

“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.”

Question two: Will WKU continue to spread the ball in the run game?

Answer: It’s kind of hard to spread the ball around when you’re not running it. WKU had negative rushing yards in the first half, but bounced back (and I use that term lightly) for 34 yards for the game. Leon Allen has proven he can handle the bulk of the carries, but it’s not ideal. Head Coach Jeff Brohm said on Monday that sophomore Anthony Wales “will be ready to play” this Saturday after suffering an ankle injury against LA Tech.

Question three: Will the defense make a game-changing play?

Answer: They sure did. Someone laughed at me when they saw that I had asked that question. This defense making plays? They can’t stop anybody. Part of that is true — WKU still allowed UTEP nearly 400 yards of offense, but the defense stepped up when called upon. Wonderful Terry’s 90-yard pick-6 marked his third defensive touchdown and the team’s fifth. The Hilltoppers four defensive scores of 80+ yards are more than any other team in the country. The defense answered my question in winning fashion, so stop laughing.

Question four: Can WKU’s defense stop the run?

Answer: Not yet. UTEP orchestrated a drive that lasted long enough for you to listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Free Bird” by running on 16 of the drive’s 18 plays ending in a touchdown. Once that song finished, the defense forced a pick-6, two punts and a turnover on downs to close the game. It was the second-straight home game where the defense didn’t allow a point in the fourth quarter. But still, WKU allowed 236 rushing yards on 5.1 yards per rush. That’s not good, but in connection to the third question, they’re making up for it by forcing the game-changer.

Question five: Can WKU win a Homecoming game?

Answer: Finally. WKU had dropped two straight Homecoming contests before Saturday, and for a while, it looked as if it was going to be three. Players don’t — or at least they shouldn’t — let Homecoming hoopla affect their play, but the students, alumni and supporters enjoy it when an exciting game ends in a Hilltopper win. It also set a tone of confidence for the next two home games that determine WKU’s postseason fate. Answering the call on Homecoming wasn’t a bad way to get back on the right track.