At halftime of the Bahamas Bowl last year, I remember thinking all sorts of wonderful thoughts. I remember feeling bad for Central Michigan fans, I remember thinking how lucky I was to have a team that was so awesome to watch on offense, I remember thinking how awesome it was to see a team like Western Kentucky come from the bowels of college football and become one of the most exciting teams in the country.
And then the second half happened, and the Tops' nearly lost on the most infamous shake and bake plays since the Music City Miracle. Luckily, they won and rode some of that momentum into the 2015 season, defeating Vandy to open the year and knocking off Louisiana Tech at home last week.
But, unfortunately, the Ghost of Defense's Past reared its ugly head this week against the Indiana Hoosiers, and the Hilltoppers fell victim for the first time of the year, seeing a 28-17 halftime lead disappear and, thanks in part to a streak of 21-straight points scored by the Hoosiers, fell 38-35 in Bloomington.
Indiana drew first blood after WKU didn't score on the game's opening possession, when Mitchell Paige took the punt 91-yards to the house (with the help of a non-called block in the back by the officials) to give the Hoosiers a 7-0 lead.
WKU returned to offensive form, striking back for a pair of touchdowns while also welcoming D'Andre Ferby to the offensive fold, who not only got the first three touches of the game for the Hilltoppers from scrimmage, but also had the first two scores of the game, as the Tops jumped out to a 14-7 lead.
It remained 14-7 for some time, and then before you knew it, the shootout that everyone expected happened. The Tops and Hoosiers swapped four scores (an Indiana touchdown and field goal and a pair of WKU touchdowns) in the final 4:02 of the first half, leading to the 28-17 halftime score.
Indiana got the second half kickoff and from there, it became the Jordan Howard show, setting up three IU scores in the third quarter to jump out to a 38-28 lead. (Here's a fact that will be more fun to look back on in about two months - Indiana has outscored opponents 44-0 in the third quarter this year.)
WKU had a chance to cut into the lead, but a 37-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal, which would have brought the Tops within a touchdown, was batted down at the line. Luckily, the turnover didn't result in Hoosier points, but it did loom large when the Tops got a touchdown with 5:56 left to play on a Brandon Doughty to Jared Dangerfield three-yard touchdown, but the running game of the Hoosiers proved to be unstoppable for just long enough, as Indiana ran out what remained on the clock to seal the deal.
In the loss, Doughty set *more* Western Kentucky history, passing Jeff Cesarone as the program's all-time leading passer, and didn't have too shabby of a game himself, throwing for 484 yards on 35-46 passing, three touchdowns but also threw two third-quarter interceptions - each of which lead to Hoosier touchdowns.
Taywan Taylor was Doughty's favorite target today, as Taylor set a career high in yards with 196 on nine catches, but left the game due to a leg injury in WKU's final possession. Tyler Higbee also set a career high, hauling in 11 catches for 109 yards.
Remember that Ferby kid? Yeah, he looks to continue the great tradition of "next man up" in the Western Kentucky backfield (Antonio Andrews after Bobby Rainey and Leon Allen after Andrews), rushing for 58 hard-earned yards on 21 carries and two (should have been three) touchdowns.
Unfortunately, Ferby didn't have the game that Howard did, who rushed for 203 yards on 31 carries. Hoosier quarterback Nate Sudfeld nearly matched Doughty stat for stat: 20-27 through the air with 355 yards and three touchdowns, but no interceptions.
This is a game that, by all accounts, the Hilltoppers should have won. It was typical 2014 in every way - get out to the quick lead at halftime, then come out with a lackluster performance (especially on defense) in the second half, only to see the game slip away.
Ferby is going to be fine in the backfield. Doughty, while he did throw his two interceptions in consecutive pass attempts, was able to calm down after the second pick (but he was held from being asked questions by the harmless Bowling Green media, which I don't think you should to with a sixth year quarterback but who am I), and Taylor and Higbee proved once again to be key targets for Doughty.
Losses like this are just frustrating because it's more fun to think of what could have been. The Tops first ever win against a Big 10 school. A 3-0 start to the year. A possibility of a national ranking later on in the season.
Sigh. Oh well. 2-1 heading into Miami next week isn't too awful. However, Miami is awful good and another second half effort like this can not happen.