What in the heck was that?
For the second time in as many seasons, ESPN has come to Bowling Green to showcase the Hilltoppers and for the second time in as many seasons, the Hilltoppers have completely dropped the ball. Last year, the defeat came to the hands of an MTSU team that WKU was clearly better than. While the scoreboard at the end of the night said 34-29, it felt much worse than that. WKU came out and looked lazy on both sides of the ball and flat out uninterested in the contest.
Tonight was a different story. Slightly. The opening drive that was scripted by Coach Petrino was a work of art (as it usually is). Western Kentucky received the ball for the seventh straight game, and took it in for a score. Joel German opened the game with a 22 yard pass. Andrews got his first touch of the game for little gain. Henry caught a 20 yard pass. Then ULL got called for a penalty. Andrews then got three straight carries – one for 5 yards, one for 12 yards, and one for 1 yard – before WKU got called for their first penalty of the evening. Then, to cap everything off, Mitchell Henry caught a 14 yard TD pass from Doughty. Badda-bing, badda-boom. 7 plays, 75 yards, and in just 3:27 of game time. Clockwork.
ULL then gets the ball, but is forced to go 3 & Out. Impressive. This is the best QB in the conference WKU is stopping.
The ensuing possession is a sign of things to come…or, so we thought. WKU goes 34 yards before Doughty throws his 3rd pick in 4 games. Oh no. Here we go again.
ULL runs 2 plays, and then…
FUMBLE! WKU RECOVERS! THE FOOTBALL GODS DON’T HATE US! Western proceeds to march 43 yards in 7 plays to kick a field goal. 10-0. I can dig it.
Fast forward to the middle of the 2nd quarter. WKU is driving, and finds themselves inside the ULL 10 down to the 2 yard line. And then it happens. Brandon Doughty lets one go, but it finds the hands of ULL’s Al Riles, and he takes it to the house. 99 yards for the pick-6, and ULL is on the board. It’s okay though, right? WKU is still up, it hasn’t all down hill (no pun intended), right? Wrong. Later in the quarter, Doughty finds Mitchell Henry, who then has it ripped out of his hands by Justin Anderson to set up another ULL TD. But, the PAT is missed, and WKU closes out the half with a field goal.
13-13 after two quarters. Not ideal for how the game started, but it’s better than down, right?
ULL receives the ball to open the 2nd half, takes it 65 yards on 11 running plays and eats nearly 8 minutes off the clock. But, the WKU defense wins, and forces a Cajun field goal. Small victory, right? Wrong. That drive alone did the defensive line (and defense in general) in, and WKU would fall off the wagon hard, and be outscored in the 2nd half 24-7 en route to the 37-20 shellacking.
Everything that happened last time the four-letter came to town happened again. That, and more. The Tops defeated themselves. Whether it be play calling (WKU went for it on 4th down four times), or executing, the Hilltoppers just couldn’t get it done tonight. They looked energized in the opening 15 minutes, then nothing for the final 45. It was another difficult night of WKU football, in front of a not-so great crowd (I understand the bluegrass is a basketball state, but people in BG should realize how big of a game tonight was. And how big of a deal it is for ESPN to be here). This has been a team that, all season, has not been able to overcome its own self-inflicted obstacles. It needs to play perfect football (like that 2nd half vs. ULM), or they will be on the losing side of a disappointing effort. It’s a young team, which is promising, with plenty of room to grow, but this just isn’t turning out to be the season most people once thought possible. Bye-bye SBC championship. Possibly bye-bye Petrino once the season ends.
While it may seem pessimistic, this is a good football team. Have pride in that. The effort they put out tonight wasn’t up to WKU’s standards, at all. I’m not sure what it was. I’ll have a night to sleep on it before I realize what exactly it was.
Stand up and cheers. (Even though, right now, I understand how hard it is.)