Tops seek redemption in Florida homecoming

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty throws the ball during WKU’s triple overtime loss to Middle Tennessee State University at Johnny Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Saturday, Sept. 13. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

How does an early homecoming sound?

If you’re one of the 29 players on WKU’s football roster that calls Florida home, then homecoming is indeed arriving early.

Former WKU coaches Willie Taggart and David Elson recruited Florida very well. Last year, the Hilltoppers had the second-most players from Florida of a non-Florida school. The 29 players on this year’s roster represent the most players from any one state, including Kentucky (27).

For some of them, it could be the last time they play football in their home state (unless, of course, WKU somehow draws a bowl game down there, but that’s a topic for another day).

“It’s going to be cool. All my family will get to go,” redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty said. “I have a cousin with autism who can’t travel, so he’s going to get to go to his first Hilltopper game. That’ll be really cool. I’m really excited to see all those guys.”

Doughty played high school football just 30 minutes from Boca Raton, where WKU will meet Florida Atlantic Saturday for an 11 a.m. kickoff.

One thing is for certain, Doughty and his 28 teammates from Florida would like nothing more than to get the season back on track with a win in their home state.

But don’t sleep on the Owls.

On paper, you’d look at these two teams and probably mark a WKU win mainly because of WKU’s offense vs. FAU’s defense. Doughty will be throwing against a unit that has allowed 467.3 yards per game and 35 points per game.

WKU’s last opponent, the University of Alabama-Birmingham, had slightly better numbers, and you saw what happened in that game.

The Hilltopper offense sputtered and scored only once in the second half and was held to just 133 yards.

FAU may be 2-4 on the year, but WKU is 2-3. Not much separation in the statistic that really matters.

“We have to be more consistent,” Doughty said. “We got a little complacent in that first half (against UAB). I thought we thought we were just going to go out there and roll over them, and we didn’t. That’s on us as a team. I think we really didn’t execute as well as we did in the second half. I put that pressure on myself to make sure that those guys are all locked in.”

We’ve seen what this offense can do when they don’t let off the gas. We’re talking record numbers each game when the offense is productive for an entire 60 minutes.

UAB was really the first team that stopped WKU’s attack in the second half all season. If it weren’t for redshirt senior defensive back Ricardo Singh’s pick-six in the third quarter, the Hilltopper offense wouldn’t have had a shot to win it.

But it wasn’t so much UAB shutting down the offense as it was WKU shooting itself in the foot.

“We just have to finish,” redshirt senior wide receiver Willie McNeal said. “We can’t just go up at halftime and come back out in the second half and we’re all low and not executing like we did in the first half. We have to come out and finish the way we started.”

McNeal, another Florida native, has been through enough games in years past where the Hilltoppers didn’t finish. This same problem occurred in the first half of last season when WKU couldn’t finish in the second half. In 2012, WKU started the season 5-1 and finished 7-5, but ended with a bowl game.

WKU has had two weeks and the team feels as if the self-inflicted wound is healed.

Now it’s time for them to prove it and finish in a place the majority of this team is comfortable with: home.