Tops confident despite loss at Illinois

Head coach Jeff Brohm after WKU’s 34-42 loss against the University of Illinois Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Mike Clark/HERALD

Kyle Williams

WKU held a 27-21 advantage heading into the final quarter of Saturday’s matchup at Illinois, but the Fighting Illini capitalized on two Hilltopper turnovers in the fourth quarter and belted out 21 points, which sealed the 42-34 loss.

Despite the final score, Head Coach Jeff Brohm and the Hilltoppers left Champaign, Illinois with an added sense of optimism.

“We’re a good football team,” Brohm said after the game. “I think we can compete with anybody we play. I think we have guys that are improving and getting better every week. They played hard. We made some plays.”

WKU falls to 0-5 all-time against the Big Ten with the loss, but the Hilltoppers’ previous four losses (twice to Indiana, once to Nebraska and once to Wisconsin) came by an average of 23.7 points, whereas Saturday’s bout was just an eight-point decision.

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw his first interception of the season in the fourth quarter, but it was his first interception in 176 pass attempts, and he was just three passing yards shy of being the only WKU quarterback to throw for more than 300 yards in consecutive games.

Junior running back Leon Allen led the way on the ground for WKU with 122 rushing yards on 24 attempts, 174 all-purpose yards and a touchdown. Allen carried 28 times for 93 yards and a touchdown against Bowling Green State.

“It gives us more confidence,” Allen said after the game. “I don’t think 11 wins sounds too bad. We made some mistakes in this game. We’ll make our corrections for next week…take it one game at a time.”

The WKU defense forced its first two turnovers of the season in the third quarter — one on a 95-yard fumble recovery that was returned for a touchdown by redshirt junior Wonderful Terry and the second on an interception by redshirt junior Prince Charles Iworah that was returned for 20 yards.

Terry’s strip-and-score led to Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week honors.

“I feel like we played up to our potential,” senior linebacker Terran Williams said. “…In the second half we let some big plays break out, and we stayed on the field a little too long, but sometimes that’s part of football. I feel like we learned from our mistakes, and we’ll come out better next week.”

The Hilltoppers will target their confidence against former Sun Belt foe Middle Tennessee in Murfreesboro, Tennessee on Saturday at 6 p.m. CDT. The rivalry is already the most storied in the C-USA, with WKU and the Blue Raiders having faced off a total of 63 times. MTSU leads the all-time series, 33-29-1.