Scorch, torch, and perhaps another rhyming word can be allotted to define just exactly what Western Kentucky did to opposing defenses in 2014.
Head coach Jeff Brohm took a middle-of-the-pack Hilltopper offense and revamped the charismatic unit into one of the most efficient in the country a season ago, primarily due to utilizing senior quarterback Brandon Doughty.
His line of 4,830 passing yards and 49 touchdowns added the cherry on top of a nine-win season that included a bowl victory, but he’s just one of many contributing factors that keep the offensive wheels churning. Here’s a few that drifted under the radar in 2014:
The Running Game
Sure, a successful ground game can set up the pass, but perhaps the equation reverses in Western Kentucky’s scheme. Once opposing defenses caught wind of Doughty’s efficiency through the air, it paved a new route: hand the ball off to Leon Allen.
The junior subtly rushed for 1,542 yards and added 13 scores on the ground, while sophomore counterpart Anthony Wales collected 518 yards of his own.
What separated this dynamic group from other programs such as Texas Tech, Washington State and Cal — teams that opt for an all-out passing attack — was the ability to keep defenses honest. Doughty’s superb decision-making and eye-opening numbers were both complemented by a stellar rushing blueprint that kept defenses honest.
Scan the 2014 statistics and the naysayers won’t hum an ounce of praise for Western Kentucky’s total rushing clip, which fell smack dab in the middle at 64th in the country (2,084). But take a closer look at the big picture: the Hilltoppers, even with their pass happy, five-wide offense, managed 4.9 yards per rush, a number that tailed only Old Dominion and Marshall in terms of conference stats. It should also be noted that Brohm’s offense ran the ball 429 times, which ranked 103rd respectively.
Expect Brohm to fully take advantage of both Leon Allen and Anthony Wales in 2015 given the experience, along with the fact that the projected starting offensive line returns 61 career starts. With defensive coordinators hell bent on halting the primary antagonist in Doughty, the offense could truly blossom into one of the most efficient, balanced attacks in the entire country if they hand the ball off more. The lack of carries simply overshadowed the productivity a season ago.
Wide Receiver Balance
It’s extremely difficult to guard big-time receivers. Just ask any defensive back in 2014 who was granted the task of measuring up with, say, Colorado State’s Rashard Higgins or South Carolina’s Pharoh Cooper, and they’ll refrain from giving that assignment to even their worst enemy.
What’s even more daunting is attempting to blanket numerous capable targets. Whether it be a “Did You Know?” segment or a trivia question featured on a future Western Kentucky contest, the Hilltoppers had seven offensive players catch 20-plus balls for 350-plus yards and multiple scores. Brohm experimented with multiple packages and whomever lined up in a two-point stance on the outside relished in their role.
Partially touching on both previous points, Doughty also connected with the whole litter of skill players. Allen fits the description of one of the seven members in the club, as he hauled in 476 yards and crossed the pylon on three separate occasions. Tight ends Mitchell Henry and Tyler Higbee also added 535 yards and five touchdowns combined, which seemingly made the offense impossible to defend, the laundry list of athletes flourishing in respected roles.
Oh, and roles. How could I forget?
You’ll frequently see teams assign roles such as possession receiver or home-run threat, but you’re talking about a Western Kentucky skill corps that could find the endzone on any given play. Six receivers within the 12.0-17.0 yard per catch range, yet all six — and Allen — caught a touchdown pass over 30 yards; Taywan Taylor and Willie McNeal topped that group with four apiece.
While Jared Dangerfield was tagged with the possession role much of the season, his pair of home runs proved that he could stray away from the sidelines and underneath routes. He’ll return with Taylor as perhaps the most feared duo in the Conference USA, however, the passs catching unit has no ceiling. Dangerfield met with TodaysU back in October, noting the value of playing alongside a batch of dynamic wide outs.
“I know we have a special group on offense and we can do great things,” stated Dangerfield. “We just have to take it one game at a time and go out there and execute like we’ve been doing and play Western Kentucky football.”
And if playing ‘Western Kentucky’ football remains high atop the agenda in 2015, then expect big things from Doughty’s counterparts yet again.