Willie Taggart played quarterback for Western Kentucky and led the Hilltoppers to their first bowl game as an FBS program in 2012 before leaving them to coach the South Florida Bulls. Three years later he faces his old team in the second annual Miami Beach Bowl on Monday, December 21.
“I tell everyone, everything about me is WKU,” Taggart said. “WKU is in my DNA. I grew up as a young man and a coach there. I’m very embedded to WKU and really excited and proud on their progress.
“It’s pretty interesting when you’re sitting and you’re watching film and evaluating,” he said. “You’re looking at L.T. Smith Stadium and you look up and you see Jackie and Jack Harbaugh Stadium Club. You remember those things and you remember the end zone you scored your first touchdown in. That’s pretty weird, for three years I hadn’t seen that and now we’re evaluating those guys, trying to put together a game plan, but it will be fun.”
Taggart calls Miami the “mecca of football”, which is where he got his quarterback from. Sophomore quarterback Quinton Flowers threw for 2023 yards and 21 touchdowns while running for 883 yards and 10 touchdowns, turning the Bulls offense of the college version of the 2014 Atlanta Falcons. The other side of this two-headed rushing monster is sophomore running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for 1273 yards and eight touchdowns.
“It feels good to be here,” Flowers said. “I have a lot of family and friends that can make the game. It’s not too far since I grew up five minutes away from the stadium, so it will be good. I am here and just ready to play with my team. I am ready to send these seniors home with something good. I promised these guys I will get them a bowl ring, I got them here and I am not done yet.”
Taggart ran that same offense in Western Kentucky. Current head coach Jeff Brohm was the best thing to ever happen to senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and WKU. Brohn prefers to air it out and this year the Western Kentucky offense is 10th in the FBS in total yards per game (519.8), sixth in passing yards per game (365.4) and 4th in points per game (44.2) on their way to the C-USA championship.
Doughty, also a South Florida native, has launched himself into the NFL Draft conversation by throwing for 4594 yards (second only to Bowling Green quarterback Matt Johnson) and an FBS leading 45 touchdowns. His top target, junior receiver Taywan Taylor caught 79 receptions for 1363 years (5th in the FBS) and 17 touchdowns (second to only Baylor receiver Corey Coleman). While being a pass heavy offense, their running combo of Anthony Wales and D’Andre Ferby combined for 1590 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns.
“We have to honor everything they do,” Bulls defensive end Eric Lee said. “We have to make sure we play our game and handle what we can on our side on defense.”
USF will be the toughest defense that WKU has faced all season, outside of the SEC. The Bulls are in the FBS Top 25 in scoring defense.
“It’s a big test for us,” Doughty said. “They’re really good on defense, and I’m not just saying that. They are fantastic on defense. We’re going to have to do some things that are a little unorthodox.”
The first Miami Beach Bowl erupted to a combined 103 points in an exciting double-overtime finish and one of the biggest on-field brawls in college football history. Ironically, both head coaches will now be tasked with reigniting the Virginia-Virginia Tech rivalry. Fans can expect a fulfilling encore this year.
“You can expect us to score a lot of points,” WKU head coach Jeff Brohm said.