In a matchup of two of the most explosive offenses in the nation, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers had no trouble in dispatching the Memphis Tigers in a 51-31 Boca Raton Bowl win.
Both passing games were expected to star, but WKU running back Anthony Wales stole the show with a career-high 35 carry, 245 yard performance. He looked unstoppable at times versus the Memphis defense in scoring three touchdowns and adding another 84 yards on four catches in the passing game. In total, the senior ended the day with 329 yards of total offense in the win.
Everyone expected this game to be one of the highest scoring games of the bowl season, so WKU and Memphis combined to start the game with back to back three and outs. After that, it was an offensive exhibition with scores on seven of the next eight total possessions. The highlight of the opening half was a very pretty designed lateral pass from WKU quarterback Mike White to star left tackle Forrest Lamp that went nine yards for a score. It was obviously Lamp’s first rushing touchdown of his career and a great cap to an incredible career with the Hilltoppers.
Trailing 14-10 and driving inside WKU territory, Memphis was the first to blink. They were stopped on third down and forced to attempt a 43-yard field goal. The normally reliable and four-time All-AAC kicker Jake Elliott was unable to connect, leaving points on the field.
WKU responded with a touchdown strike to Nicholas Norris to take an 11-point lead at 21-10. They were able to hold that lead for the rest of the first half, but missed out on a golden opportunity to put up a fifth touchdown of the opening half.
All I can say is watch this play.
A fake kneel with a handoff to Wales got the Toppers to the Memphis 32-yard line with :35 left in the half. White went for it all and nearly connected, but Dontrell Nelson was able to wrestle the ball from Taywan Taylor for the interception. That interception kept Memphis in the game at 28-17 going into intermission.
Needing to find a way to stop the potent WKU attack, Memphis instead allowed Taylor to run wide open for an easy 41-yard score and the rout was on. The Toppers added another touchdown and field goal to hold a 44-24 lead at the end of three quarters.
The game slowed a bit in the second with the WKU defense finally coming to play. They were able to hold Memphis to a turnover on downs, touchdown, interception, and another turnover on downs to build a very comfortable lead. From then on, it was all cruise control for the CUSA champions as their bled the clock as best they could in holding on for a 51-31 win.
For WKU, this is the third straight bowl win with all three wins coming in the last three years. They have scored at least 44 points per game during this three-game bowl winning streak. This particular iteration has set a school record with its tenth straight game with 40 or more points. Even last year’s record setting team did not score 40+ in that many games straight.
The Tigers end their season at 8-5 with their second straight loss in a bowl game. Despite the loss, this squad seems to be a year ahead of schedule and should compete in 2017 for the AAC West Division crown. They return a majority of their players on both sides of the ball and are killing it on the recruiting field in adding more and more athletes to the roster.