The Miami Beach Bowl between Western Kentucky and South Florida featured a common college football theme that seems to happen more often than not: Bulls head coach Willie Taggart faced the team and program he once coached.
Remember, Taggart departed from Western Kentucky at the conclusion of the 2012 season, heading to USF.
Taggart led the ‘Toppers to consecutive 7-5 seasons in 2011 and 2012, and a postseason berth in the latter, but that was eons away from what Western Kentucky has evolved into since. Similar to a carpenter lending the tools over and gazing at a mansion upon finish, the hand that once fed took his 8-4 Bulls down to the Sunshine State to clash with his former club.
That may have been the primary storyline, but a number of Hilltoppers who hail from Florida put on a show in transit to a 45-35 victory for Western Kentucky.
WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty was as good as advertised, the defense came up large in key situations, and the Hilltoppers staved off a resilient South Florida team to earn consecutive bowl victories. It would be the first time all season that Western Kentucky would play down in Florida after a couplet of trips in 2014.
Doughty, the Davie, Fla. product, registered a casual 461 yards passing and three touchdowns, although the offense appeared out of sync for a majority of the first half. The Bulls stifled the Hilltoppers en rout to just ten points throughout the first two frames. As we’ve all come to learn, a defense can only keep a lid on Western Kentucky’s offense and its playmakers for so long, though.
Wide receiver Jared Dangerfield (West Palm Beach), the program’s single-season record holder in receptions, reeled in five Doughty passes for 92 yards while also hauling in a 26-yard score to extend the third-quarter lead to 17 points, making it seemingly impossible for South Florida to creep back into the game.
Miami’s own Nicholas Norris led all Hilltopper pass-catchers with 120 receiving yards on five receptions, catching touchdown passes of 55 and 69 yards early in the third to ignite the once-stagnant offense.
Also chipping in on offense was standout wide receiver Taywan Taylor, whose 114 receiving yards would mark the eighth time this season the senior would surpass the century mark. Taylor culminated 2015 tied with Baylor wide receiver and Biletnikoff winner Corey Coleman, with 1,363 receiving yards, good for fourth in the nation.
While the offensive protagonists from Florida put on a display for family and friends, it was also a bittersweet moment for the array of seniors who helped renovate the program to recent success.
“I feel like the seniors, we stepped up this year and made a new trademark for this program and how high it’s gonna be for the future,” Dangerfield told WBKO. “I feel like they’re gonna take it places.”
And for a quarterback who leisurely shattered records and boasts a character that Taggart compared to Tom Brady, the end of Doughty’s career also brought a dash of emotion to the sixth-year senior .
“I actually got emotional,” Doughty said. “I did. I got emotional on that field that last practice at The Houch (last week). Man, it’s been a ride. It’s been a heckuva ride. To really realize after six years this is your last college practice is kinda surreal.”