CRAWFORD | Four takeaways from WKU's 14-12 season-opening win at - WDRB 41 Louisville News

CRAWFORD | Four takeaways from WKU's 14-12 season-opening win at Vanderbilt

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NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) — Thursday night’s opener at Vanderbilt was supposed to be a showcase opportunity for the Western Kentucky University football team’s offense and senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.

Instead, it took the better part of three quarters for Doughty and the Hilltopper offense to find its rhythm. 

A year ago, that would’ve been a recipe for a blowout loss. But Thursday night, WKU added a heavy dose of defense, keeping Vanderbilt out of the end zone until the final minute before the WKU offensive machine started rolling late for a 14-12 victory.

It wasn’t the pinball-machine type numbers every one expected — including the Las Vegas oddsmakers who set the final over-under on the game at 60 points.

But for WKU, it was still a win on the road against a Southeastern Conference opponent. Initial thoughts:

DEFENSE? Yes, defense. The WKU defense bent a bit in the first half, but didn’t break until a Vanderbilt field goal late in the half. The group that gave up 40 points per game a year ago repeatedly held.

Nick Holt intercepted a pass in the end zone in the first half and Nick Newton did the same in the second. On its first four trips into the red zone, Vanderbilt missed a field goal, threw two interceptions and finally made a field goal.

The WKU defense was on the field for long stretches. Vanderbilt’s time of possession edge was huge. But it made big plays when it needed them most — even when the offense was bogging down.

DROPPED OPPORTUNITIES. Doughty made some nice throws early, but four big drops cost the Hilltoppers an early lead. Jared Dangerfield mis-timed a jump and dropped a touchdown pass in the end zone, then the Hilltoppers dropped a third-down pass that would’ve put them in field goal range. Nacarious Fant had two of the four early drops, including one on third down.

Those unforced drops seemed to lead Brohm to tighten up his play-calling a bit, unable to fully trust his receivers.

RHYTHM RUINED. Unable to convert on third down and having plays that should’ve gone for positive yardage nullified by drops, the WKU offense began to bog down. The Hilltoppers couldn’t run it consistently, couldn’t pick up even short third downs, and then Doughty began to look a bit flustered. On the second series of the second half, he overthrew an open receiver downfield, but didn’t go to a wide-open Antwane Grant even deeper downfield. On the next play, he fumbled the shotgun snap.

LATE SURGE. A 65-yard pass from Doughty to tight end Tyler Higbee got WKU going. Leon Allen ran it in from four yards out to give the Hilltoppers their first touchdown, then they scored again on a 9-play, 70-yard drive that put them up by eight.

WKU had a chance to put the game away with an eight-point lead and the ball, but wound up having to punt, leaving its defense on the field needing to make one more big stop.

Vanderbilt took over at its own 23 with 2:38 left, and was at the WKU 25 one minute and 15 seconds later. The Commodores kept driving. They were at the 2-yard line with third-and-goal with 40 seconds left when they spent their final timeout. Vanderbilt wound up getting their touchdown, but Joe Brown, a sophomore from Butler High School, made a game-saving tackle on the two-point conversion to preserve the WKU win.

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