Topper offense eyeing breakout 2014 season

Leon Allen, Brandon Doughty, Willie McNeal. JEFF BROWN/HERALD

Kyle Williams

WKU football opens its season under the bright lights of Smith Stadium for just the second time in nine years tonight when it welcomes Bowling Green State for what should be a high-scoring affair.

First-year Falcons Head Coach Dino Babers led Eastern Illinois to an average of 48.2 points per game last season and inherits a BGSU team that returns eight starters on offense.

However, Head CoachJeff Brohm and the Hilltoppers return nine starters from the unit that ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt last season and averaged 458.5 yards per game.

Most notably, WKU returns redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who broke four program passing records last season, including the 23-year-old record for most single-season passing yards with 2,857.

The 6-foot 3-inch, 210-pound gunslinger said that the offense is working on being as sharp as possible in the second year of the system.

“We have to be consistent,” Doughty said. “Everyone has to play their role and everyone has to understand that it’s going to take 11 guys. Guards are going to have to help me out and help the receivers out and things are going to have to roll for us. We’re going to stay consistent throughout the whole game and just keep pushing.”

Doughty will hand the ball off to junior running back Leon Allen in the backfield and will look to connect with a plethora of experienced receiving options down the field this season.

Allen enters his first year as a full-time starter, having compiled career totals of 674 yards and seven touchdowns, five of which came last season.

Backing up Allen will be redshirt sophomore running backs Anthony Wales and Darmontre Warr. Wales totaled 112 yards last season for two scores on just 17 attempts. Warr spent last season as a fixture of the Hilltoppers’ special teams unit.

WKU returns receivers Willie McNeal, Joel German, Taywan Taylor, Nicholas Norris and tight ends Mitchell Henry, Tyler Higbee and Tim Gorski, who together hauled in a combined 184 receptions for 2,285 yards and 13 touchdowns last season.

The Hilltoppers also welcome junior college transfers Jared Dangerfield and Antwane Grant, who will add needed size to the receiving core. Dangerfield and Grant are 6-foot 3-inch and 6-foot 1-inch, respectively.

“I’ve been here for a long time and, honestly, I think this is probably the most explosive offense we’ve had as far as depth-wise, too. I think we have two or three deep at every position on the field,” McNeal said. “There’s going to be no letting up at all. If somebody goes down, somebody comes out and there’s still going to be that pressure. I think there will be a lot of pressure on the defensive coordinators, too, because you’re not just going to game plan on two or three guys on the offense, you’re really going to have to worry about everybody at every position.”

WKU will be without the services of Luis Polanco, Sean Conway and Ed Hazelett off the offensive line this season, but it will be an experienced group nonetheless with redshirt senior Cameron Clemmons and redshirt sophomore Forrest Lamp. The duo started each game last season at left and right guard, respectively.

An unfamiliar face on the offense this season is first-year offensive coordinator Tyson Helton. Helton, who spent last season as Cincinnati’s tight ends/special teams coach, said that since the offense has potential, it’s important for the team not to get ahead of itself and force miscues.

“Here’s what you have to do – you take care of the football,” Helton said. “You let the game take its natural process. If we get up early, that’s great, but it’s a four-quarter game. We talk about it all the time. Offense, take care of the ball, manage the offense, your plays will come and when your number is called, make your plays.”

Following an 18-day fall camp schedule and three game-week practices, Brohm and the Hilltoppers are finally prepared to put their experienced offense to the test.

“Our guys, even though they’ve worked hard, they have to go out and perform game day,” Brohm said. “They have to execute the calls that are being called. They have to play extremely hard, they have to play fast, they have to play with great instincts, they have to play tough, they have to be able to put the pressure on when we have momentum and when the other team gets it, they have to be able to find a way to get tougher and stop that momentum.”