Miami Beach Bowl: Hilltoppers vs. Bulls Preview

The Miami Beach Bowl is in its second year and once again features a pair of teams that can put up a lot of points. Photo Courtesy: Miami Beach Bowl Facebook Page
The Miami Beach Bowl is in its second year and once again features a pair of teams that can put up a lot of points. Photo Courtesy: Miami Beach Bowl Facebook Page

By Frank LaCosta

Game Info
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. South Florida Bulls
Monday – December 21 – 1:30 pm CT
TV: ESPN
Marlins Park – Miami, Florida

Records Before the Game
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (11-2, 8-0 C-USA)
South Florida Bulls (8-4, 6-2 American)

How did the Hilltoppers get here?
Under head coach Jeff Brohm the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers improved upon last season’s 8-5 record which included a Bahamas Bowl win with an impressive 11-2 record, a Conference USA title and cracked the AP Top 25. Their two losses are against a feisty Indiana University team which came down to the wire and a blow out loss to then ranked #5 LSU. In their victories this season, the Hilltoppers for the most part have defeated their opponents by double digits. They put up points fast through the air behind Senior QB Brandon Doughty. For the season, he has slung the rock for 4,594 yards with 45 TDs. He does have seven interceptions, but that will happen when you’re passing as much as Doughty does. Look for Junior RB Anthony Wales to be the featured back. He’s amassed 986 rushing yards this season with 7 TDs. He’ll certainly break the 1,000 yard mark in the Miami Beach Bowl. What makes this achievement even more remarkable is that Wales did not play the first four games of this season and when he came back against Rice, Wales only had three carries for nine yards. When Doughty drops back to pass, he’ll lock onto Junior WR Taywan Taylor who has reeled in 79 receptions this season for 1,363 yards and 17 TDs. So the Hilltoppers are big fans of the pass and like to get ahead by a decent margin forcing their opponent to become one dimensional and play catch up. One important note: TE Tyler Higbee re-injured his left knee on Dec. 5 in the Conference USA championship game and might not be available. Higbee has eight touchdown catches in nine games.

How did the Bulls get here?
The Bulls started off the season shaky going 1-3 in their first four games before winning seven of eight. The loss coming to a potent Navy team. The Bulls aren’t going to wow anyone with their aerial attack. They’re ranked 105th in the nation, but on the ground they don’t mess around. Their 11th ranked attack is proof. The Bulls ask Sophomore Quinton Flowers to be a game manager. He has decent passing numbers with 21 TDs and 2,023 yards through the air. He has wheels though and sits at 883 yards with a chance to a break 1,000 rushing yards for the season with a good game. When Flowers has to pass he’ll target Junior WR Rodney Adams who has hauled in 39 passes for 692 yards and 8 TDs. The Bulls like to hand the ball off to Marlon Mack who has 1,273 rushing yards and 8 TDs. In other words, the plan on offense is simple: run and when that doesn’t work, run some more.

Prediction: This will be a high scoring affair with the Hilltoppers airing it out and the Bulls chewing up clock on the ground. Both defenses will have plenty of opportunities for turnovers. Final Score: Hilltoppers 45 – Bulls 34.