Western Kentucky (10-3) became the second program in Conference USA history to win back-to-back conference championship games on Saturday with a wild offensive shootout against Louisiana Tech (8-5), 58-44. Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White passed for 403 yards and four touchdowns and Anthony Wales led things on the ground with 194 rushing yards and three scores to push the home team past the Bulldogs.
Offenses for both teams were locked in from the start, with over 1,100 combined yards of offense. Louisiana Tech quarterback Ryan Higgins passed for 507 yards and three touchdowns, but Western Kentucky used a more balanced approach and had an advantage on the ground to help overcome three turnover sin the game. Wales carried the football 35 times for Western Kentucky and was a workhorse for them from start to finish, with the final touchdown of the game ultimately delivering the knockout punch to Louisiana Tech, who would throw an interception on their final possession.
With 102 combined points, Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech set a new combined points record for an FBS conference championship game. The previous record was 101 points, which was done twice. Wisconsin and Nebraska scored 101 point sin the 2012 Big Ten championship game (won by Wisconsin, 70-31) and Auburn and Missouri matched that point total the following season in the SEC Championship Game (won by Auburn, 59-42).
Coming into the game, Louisiana Tech head coach Skip Holtz made it a point to say his team could not give up big plays if they were to get a win. Needless to say, that did not work out in his favor in this one.
The last time a school won back-to-back Conference USA championships was in 2008 and 2009 when East Carolina won consecutive titles. Perhaps in a bit of irony, Holtz was the coach of those ECU teams.
The future of the Western Kentucky program will be something to keep a close eye on. Head coach Jeff Brohm has been linked to various coaching rumors, most noticeably with the Purdue vacancy in the Big Ten. He has certainly proven worthy of being a hot name in the coaching carousel after coaching Western Kentucky to back-too-back 10-win seasons for the first time in program history.
For now, bowl destinations will have to be settled.
Western Kentucky (12-2) may have started off slowly against South Florida (8-5) in he Miami Beach Bowl, but the Hilltoppers exploded in the second half. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty passed three touchdowns in the third quarter as WKU outscored the Bulls 28-7 out of the halftime break en route to a 45-35 victory.
Wester Kentucky used big plays to lead the charge in the second half. Doughty completed a 69-yard pass to Nicholas Norris in the third quarter to take a 17-14 lead on South Florida. The two hooked up again a couple of minutes later for a 55-yard scoring strike. Doughty tossed a third touchdown late in the third quarter, this time to Jared Dangerfield from 28 yards ou to build a 38-21 lead heading to the fourth quarter.
South Florida was not quite down for the count though. In a span of four minutes, South Florida scored two touchdowns with Quinton Flowers passed and ran for a score to trim the Western Kentucky lead to 38-35, but with just over five minutes to play the Hilltoppers padded their lead to 45-35 with a 42-yard touchdown run by Anthony Wales.
Western Kentucky racked up over 600 yards of offense, with Dougthy throwing for 461 yards. South Florida’s offense had a productive day as well, putting together 543 yards of offense.
Western Kentucky is now 2-1 all-time in bowl games, including last year’s thriller against Central Michigan in the Bahamas Bowl. The Conference USA champions also defeated their former head coach, Willie Taggart. Western Kentucky will open the season on the road against Alabama on September 10. The Hilltoppers will also host Vanderbilt next September.
South Florida will have a chance to get off to a good start in 2016 with a home game against Towson. A home game against Northern Illinois and a road game at Syracuse will be good opportunities for some solid wins as well as South Florida could emerge as a trend team in the American athletic Conference. The Bulls also host Florida State next September. Watch out for these Bulls.
Conference USA champion Western Kentucky took a while to get going and appeared to be set to tie the Miami Beach Bowl at 14-14 before halftime, but a bad penalty and back-to-back sacks by South Florida’s defense assured the Bulls would keep a 14-10 halftime lead, and perhaps the momentum.
On first and goal from the six-yard line, Western Kentucky offensive lineman Forrest Lamp was called for an unsportsmanlike penalty, and the Bulls sacked WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty on the next two plays for a combined loss of 17 yards to drive WKU out of field goal range, leaving the Hilltoppers to punt the ball away instead.
Western Kentucky could go just seven yards on the first six plays of the game, but the first few possessions of the game for both teams were far from extraordinary. The teams exchanged punts and a turnover on downs on the first five drives of the game. South Florida finally got things going with Quinton Flowers rushing 12 yards for a touchdown to cap a 62-yard drive keyed by back-to-back completions for first downs from Flowers to Rodney Adams and Ryeshene Bronson.
Down 14-0, Western Kentucky finally found a spark with a Doughty pass to for a 53-yard gain on the first play of a drive midway through the second quarter. Anthony Wales picked up the final 13 yards on the drive for a touchdown. The touchdown had to be upheld by a video review, because it appeared Wales lost control of the football as he crossed the goal line. The official video review led to upholding the call on the field.
Goal line cameras, people. Goal. Line. Cameras. You have the technology. Use it.