Leading up to the Boca Raton Bowl many thought the college football world would be seeing the start of the end of an unprecedented run in Western Kentucky after Jeff Brohm left to be the head coach of Purdue. We thought so too.
We were wrong. Really, really wrong.
In what was reminiscent of a Conference USA game that featured trick plays, and a ton of points, Western Kentucky defeated former C-USA member Memphis 51-31 to win the Boca Raton Bowl.
Under Brohm the Hilltoppers established an identify that they can score in bunches and tonight WKU didn’t miss a beat without him as WKU’s balanced attack racked up 598 yards of total offense with Anthony Wales accounting for 245 of those yards on the ground. Wales would finish the game with three touchdowns
The defense still gave up a ton of yards tonight but forced two field goal attempts, two turnovers and kept the Memphis offense one-dimensional as the Tigers rushed for only 73 yards on 33 rushing attempts. Not a single Memphis player rushed for over 40 yards.
In a game that features explosive offenses such as these two all it takes is for an offensive unit to have empty possessions to fall behind and that proved to be the difference tonight as WKU was unstoppable on offense.
Memphis got on the board first as Riley Ferguson was able to connect with Tony Pollard with a 45-yard score early in the first quarter. WKU answered with a touchdown of their own as Mike White was able to find Stevie Donatell for a score.
After a 33-yard field goal by Jake Elliiot, WKU answered with the play of the game.
TEARS IN MY EYES. FORREST LAMP TOUCHDOWN CATCH pic.twitter.com/Ms43zOpyot— Underdog Dynasty (@underdogdynasty) December 21, 2016
The score by the All-American offensive tackle Forrest Lamp gave WKU the lead for good as the Tigers were never able to fully recover as they went on a 31-14 run following the score.
The Tops kept their foot on the pedal all night as they scored in every quarter. No play personified their aggression more than their play before the half.
Here's that fake kneel down WKU ran with 45 seconds left in the 1st half—hid a small player behind the line: #GoTops pic.twitter.com/VQGkc4JPxw— RedditCFB (@RedditCFB) December 21, 2016
The win for WKU was not only an answer to folks who may think WKU will take a dip with the arrival of high profile coaches in C-USA East in Lane Kiffin (FAU) and Butch Davis (FIU) but an ode to the senior class as the seniors will finish their WKU career with two straight Conference USA Championships, three straight bowl victories and 39 wins.
For Memphis the year ends on a dud despite a prolific performance from Riley Ferguson who finished the game with 372 passing yards and four touchdowns. Mike Norvell’s first year in Memphis should be seen as a success despite the bowl loss and finishes the year 8-5.
The American Athletic Conference moves to 1-3 this bowl season. Conference USA is now 2-0.