Brandon Doughty had the perfect conclusion to his storied college career. The South Florida native comes back home for his final college game to lead the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers over the South Florida Bulls and his former coach Willie Taggart, 45-35, in the Miami Beach Bowl on Monday.
“My journey’s been unbelievable,” Doughty said. “I mean I feel like I can write a book. But to do that, to take a big win in my home against a guy who gave me a chance, you know a lot of schools didn’t give me a chance, a lot of colleges didn’t give me a chance coming out of high school. He took a risk on me and I thank him for it. It was a good feeling to do this at home for sure.”
Doughty still considers Taggart as his mentor. The current USF head coach recruited Doughty when he was running the show in Western Kentucky and have kept in contact with him ever since, sending him texts of encouragement and wisdom after both wins and losses.
When asked his defense was taking on an NFL quarterback in Doughty, Taggert responded with simply, “absolutely”. He gave him all the usual praising descriptions — a competitor, student of the game, one of the best quarterbacks in the country. Those cliche complements carry a little more weight when it comes to Taggart and Doughty.
“We knew that when he came in as a freshman that he had something to him,” Taggart said. “Brandon is a great quarterback. Not only did he do it against us, he did it against everybody.”
Doughty threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns to finish the season with 5,055 yards and 48 touchdowns, setting school records in both categories. He and head coach Jeff Brohm have combined to give the C-USA their version of Tom Brady and Bill Belichick. Under Brohm’s tootilage, Doughty has thrown for over 48,000 passing yards and 48 touchdowns while leading Western Kentucky (12-2, 8-0 C-USA) to the C-USA championship.
“This has truly been the most fun year I’ve ever had as a football player, and I’ve been playing football for a long time.” Doughty said. “All those numbers and stuff, I give credit to the coach, he’s a heck of play caller, I mean the guy’s a mastermind out there.”
With every win and every impressive performance made the fantasy of playing quarterback in the NFL more and more like a possible reality. In an quarterback class of few standouts, Doughty finds himself among the cream of this year’s crop. He has the look and the resume of a blue chip prospect. Doughty completes his college career with 12,855 passing yards and 110 touchdowns more than Drew Brees, Matt Leinart, Andrew Luck, Dan Mario and Peyton Manning ever accumilated in college.
“I am excited,” Doughty said. “I’ve been working my butt off for this. It’s my dream. When I was in the back yard I was five years old and I was thinking I was Dan Marino, you know. It was just a dream. For it to be a reality and something that’s very realistic, you know I’m just honored and I can’t thank God enough for it.”
The game didn’t start well for for Doughty and the Hilltoppers at first. The Bulls (8-5, 6-2 American Athletic Conference) asserted their rushing prowess early by driving down the field and scoring the first touchdown of the game on a 12-yard run by quarterback Quinton Flowers. They did it again early in the second quarter when a 34-yard touchdown run by Rodney Adams gave USF a 14-0 lead.
A 13-yard rushing touchdown by Anthony Wales and a field goal by Garrett Schwettman to close out the first half put WKU within less than a touchdown, down only 14-10. The first half was a contrast of offensive approaches. USF outgained WKU on the ground 149-42 but the Hilltoppers outgained the Bulls through air 221-31.
“We gave up a lot of yards,” WKU linebacker Nick Holt said. “We all got our ankles broken about three times each by that quarterback.”
USF drove down the field to the WKU 25 yard line to start the second half. Their progress was negated when kicker and Miami native Emilio Nadelman’s field goal attempt went wide left. The Miami native didn’t have his best homecoming, missing both his kicks including a 54-yard attempt that would’ve tied the game for the Bulls.
WKU took their first lead of the game on the ensuing drive when Doughty’s pass to Nicholas Norris went 69 yards for the touchdown. Doughty threw to Norris again on the very next drive for a 56-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 24-14. Norris finished the game with five catches for 120 yards and two touchdowns.
USF proved that their running backs are so good, they can even play the role of quarterback. D’Ernest Johnson took the handoff and after a few steps immediately hurled it towards Tyre McCants for a 34-yard touchdown to cut the Hilltoppers lead to 24-21.
The Hilltoppers followed that up by scoring two more touchdowns to cap a 28-point third quarter. Sophomore receiver Nacarious Fant took the reverse play nine yards for his first career rushing touchdown. He returned a punt for a team season high 37 yards to set up a 26 yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Jared Dangerfield to go up 38-21.
The Bulls staged a comeback of their own in the fourth quarter. Flowers threw a 53 yard touchdown pass to Adams on the very first play of the fourth quarter and later danced his way into the end zone to cut the Hilltoppers’ lead to 38-35. Adams finished with 175 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns and set a new USF record for receiving yards (822) and touchdowns (9).
Wales’ 42-yard rushing touchdown secured Western Kentucky’s 45-35 win. The Hilltoppers finished the 2015 season ranked in the Top 25 for the first time as an FBS program and with 12 wins, losing only to Indiana and LSU on the road.
As for USF, this is truly a bright season for the Bulls, their four game winning streak to close out the regular season and their first victory over a Power 5 opponent since 2011 made their 1-3 start seemed forgetable. Taggart’s “Gulf Coast Offense” finally came to fruition with Flowers’ emergence.
The sophomore finished the bowl game with 273 passing yards, 109 rushing yards and three total touchdowns. He also broke USF records for rushing by a quarterback in a single season (991) and has the most passing (22) and total touchdowns (34) in program history. Him teaming up with sophomore running back Marlon Mack, who rushed for overs 1,000 yard for the second consecutive season and led the AAC with 115.7 yards per game during the regular season, completes the offense.
“The future is bright for USF because we have a lot of guys returning,” Taggart said. “We just have to get back to work.”