One thing is for sure about the Miami RedHawks defense heading into conference play next week: It will have been tested!
Miami will be at Western Kentucky Saturday for a 3:30 p.m. matchup against the Hilltoppers at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. That means another huge challenge for the RedHawks defense, which battled Cincinnati last week and Wisconsin the previous Saturday.
Wisconsin went badly for MU as the Badgers posted a 58-0 shutout on Miami. Cincinnati, on the other hand, was a very winnable game. MU actually had a three-point lead before allowing a late UC touchdown drive that resulted in a 37-34 Bearcat win in the rivalry.
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It might be out of the frying pan and into – well, at least another frying pan for Miami this week. Western Kentucky is led by sixth-year senior quarterback Brandon Doughty. He was the nation’s leader in passing yards (4,830) and touchdowns (49) last year. Among his stellar performances in 2014 was a new league record 593 yards against Middle Tennessee. When Leon Allen rushed for 345 yards against Army, WKU became the first program in 17 years to break the league single-game passing and rushing records in the same season.
When Doughty was granted a sixth season of eligibility, it appeared as if the dangerous duo would be back to wreak havoc on 2015 opponents. Allen, however, sustained a season-ending knee injury in the Hilltoppers’ second game this year.
D’Andre Ferby, a 6-1, 240-pound freshman, stepped into the role, carrying 21 times for 58 yards and two TDs in last Saturday’s 38-35 loss to Indiana in Bloomington. Doughty, meanwhile, just keeps on throwing. He completed 35 of 46 for 484 yards and three TDs versus IU, although was intercepted twice.
If the RedHawks get an interception Saturday, it will be noteworthy. Doughty has not thrown an interception at home since Oct 15, 2013, a span of 346 pass attempts. Since that interception, Doughty is 247 of 346 (71.4%) for 3,318 yards and 28 touchdowns at home without a pick.
His two interceptions at Indiana are his only INTs this season, and he registered just 10 on 552 attempts last year.
Doughty can work the entire field – short, middle or deep. His “long” pass plays for each game this year are 65 yards, 53 yards and 78 yards. The super-senior has been over 400 yards passing in each of the last two games, but was held to 209 yards and one score on 19 of 30 in a season-opening 14-12 win over Vanderbilt.
Doughty’s mobility and intuitive play have kept him on his feet for the most part. He has been sacked a total of three times in three games this year and was brought down 19 times in each of the previous two campaigns.
The Hilltoppers top receiving targets this year have been Tyler Higbee (22 catches, 299 yards, 2 TDs) and Taywan Taylor (17 catches, 333 yards, 2 TDs).
Western Kentucky is scoring at a 30.0 ppg clip this year, but it is allowing 29.5 ppg. In fact, while the Hilltoppers have 1,400 yards of total offense, opponents total 1,612.
Miami, which was shutout by Wisconsin two weeks ago, bounced back for a much better offensive showing against Cincinnati, which has its own defensive struggles.
Senior Drew Kummer, who had precious little game experience entering completed 11 of 25 for 176 yards with three touchdowns and one (albeit costly) interception. Freshman Billy Bahl also tossed a TD as MU continues to develop its quarterback corps.
Sophomore tight end Ryan Smith (6-4, 261) had three catches, including two touchdowns, against Cincinnati. Sam Martin pulled in four passes for 124 yards and a (75-yard) TDs, and Sam Shisso tallied via a 21-yard Kummer pass.
That kind of number has been a long time in coming. Indeed, like other areas, it’s not like the run game has totally “arrived.” Miami could not summon – either by pass or run – late in the game to hold onto the ball and the lead.
Another potential issue for MU is the kicking game. Miami has missed very make-able field goals over the last two weeks. With conference play and more close games looming on the horizon, getting special teams going is important.
-- WKU redshirt sophomore wideout Kylen Towner (5-8, 175) can be dangerous in the return game. He has a 98-yard kickoff return/TD to his credit this year. Las season, he returned one kickoff for 94 yards against Old Dominion.
-- WKU placekicker Garrett Schwettman is 4 for 4 on field goal attempts, including a long of 46 yards. Last year, he set the WKU single season points record with 118 points and converted 16 of 21 FG.
-- The Hilltoppers have now completed six years a Football Bowl Subdivision program.
-- Head coach Jeff Brohm is his second year at the Hilltoppers helm.
-- WKU started and ended its 2014 season with wins over MAC teams. In addition to defeating CMU in the Bahamas Bowl, the Hilltoppers opened with a 59-31victory over Bowling Green.