Pratt: Hilltoppers’ playing style is a double-edged sword

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty passes the ball during the WKU vs Middle Tennessee State game in Murfreesboro on Sept. 13, 2014. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

Murfreesboro, Tenn. – This isn’t your granddad’s kind of football anymore.

It was just two weeks ago when I wrote that WKU would have a hard time putting up the same high numbers on offense that it did against Bowling Green State.

Then they decided to play football a little longer on a Saturday night in Murfreesboro and shatter all those records again.

I wrote that Brandon Doughty would have “mediocre” nights where he throws 300 yards on average for the rest of the season. Instead, he broke his personal record again and through three games already has half the passing yards he had all of last season.

You thought 97 plays against Bowling Green State was a lot and lasted a long time? Try 102 against MTSU. And to believe I thought a game lasting three-and-a-half hours was long – triple overtime added another 30 extra minutes of time and a few more grey hairs to the heads of sports editors laying out Sunday morning newspapers.

No, this isn’t your granddad’s kind of football and he probably hates it.

But this is what college football is now.

The interesting thing about what you just read is if you haven’t already seen the score to WKU’s game at MTSU, you’re probably assuming the Hilltoppers won.

But they didn’t – all of that still wasn’t enough, and WKU finds itself in a familiar situation to last season: 1-2 on the season, 0-1 in the conference.

“The guys are mad, they’re ticked off, they’re disappointed,” head coach Jeff Brohm said. “They know that we could have won the game. Like I tell them every week, that’s college football nowadays. We’re a new team in a good conference. A conference that in the first couple of weeks has really proven itself. Every game the rest of the year is going to be like that. They’re going to go down to the wire.”

I’ll admit it: even my heart was racing in the press box of Floyd Stadium Saturday night.

Even if you’re like me and looking at the game objectively with no rooting interest how could you not be glued to and excited for the results of a game that plays into three overtimes?

Exciting as a game it was as one that I’ll never forget, the beautiful evil of football is that someone has to lose that game. WKU seniors know how MTSU felt three years ago when the Hilltoppers won in double overtime in the ‘Burro.

“With record breaking stuff like that, it’s something you want to celebrate. But with a loss you can’t really celebrate that,” redshirt senior Wille McNeal said. “I feel what they felt a couple of years ago. I hate the way it happened like that. I thought we were going to pull it off but things happen.”

The only thing that is going to stop this new football the Hilltoppers have established is – wait for it – the Hilltoppers.

The last two weeks are blatant evidence that this team’s style of play is a double-edged sword.

Last week against Illinois, WKU gave up a fourth quarter lead when Doughty threw a pick-6 as part of a 21 point fourth quarter outing by the Illini.

Saturday night at MTSU, the Tops scored 21 unanswered points to go up by 10 in the second quarter only to allow MTSU to tie it right before halftime. Doughty’s interception that led to a Blue Raider touchdown goes to show that the only thing that can stop this offense is, indeed, itself.

But if you don’t play equally well on both sides of the ball, none of that matters. MTSU’s 323 rushing yards were the most that WKU had allowed in a game since 2011. The Hilltoppers’ defense has allowed an average 41 points per game so far this season. You don’t have to be good with numbers to see that’s a problem.

With that kind of performance, this offense has to put up outrageous numbers, which doesn’t seem to be an issue moving forward with Navy looming after a bye week.

“We had multiple chances to win the game and put them away and we just didn’t,” junior linebacker Nick Holt said. “Offense, defense and special teams. We’re really disappointed and its good that we have a bye week to kind of regroup and find our identity as a team. We’re not feeling too hot in there.”

The identity is this team still looks really good considering they’re 1-2, 0-1 in Conference USA, and is really a few plays away from being 3-0.

Shatter all the records and make all the highlights you want, but this “new” football calls for precise execution on both sides of the ball for 60 minutes – in Saturday night’s case, 60 minutes plus three overtimes.

Bells and whistles are nice and pretty in those chrome domes, but WKU has to make turn those shiny stats into wins, the record column where it actually counts.