WKU, Memphis set for high-scoring Boca Raton Bowl matchup
WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. (AP) The scoreboard operator at FAU Stadium during Tuesday night's Boca Raton Bowl can expect to be kept busy by the high-powered offenses of Western Kentucky and Memphis.
The Hilltoppers (10-3) put together their second consecutive 10-win season and averaged 45 points per game in capturing back-to-back Conference USA titles. Even though they will be taking the field without the head coach who built their offensive juggernaut in Jeff Brohm, who left for the same position at Purdue earlier this month, this group doesn't plan to take its foot off the gas pedal.
''I think they're going to be one of the more athletic defenses we've faced so we're going to have to be able to use our athletes against their athletes and that's really what it's going to come down to,'' said Western Kentucky's senior quarterback Mike White, who transferred from the University South Florida and sat out all of the 2015 season. ''It starts up front of our big boys. I know they're going to go out there and take care of business like they've done all year.''
Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor (6-foot-1, 195 pounds) has been the biggest playmaker for White and the Hilltoppers, piling up 1,586 receiving yards and 16 touchdown receptions to rank No. 2 in the nation.
The Tigers (8-4) are led by junior quarterback Riley Ferguson, who guided an offense that averaged 39.5 points per game. Ferguson (6-4, 210) racked up 3,326 yards, 28 touchdowns and just nine interceptions but he will be facing a ball-hawking defense that has Memphis coach Mike Norvell focusing on ball security.
''We know these are two explosive football teams and both defenses love to attack,'' Norvell said. ''We want to create takeaways. That's something that we've been able to do a great job of this year, I think we're top five in the nation in forcing turnovers, and that's something that's going to be key in this game. When you do play an explosive offense we can't give them any extra possessions.
''If we can get them off the field we have to capitalize on every opportunity.''
Some things to know about the Boca Raton Bowl:
TROPICAL AUDITION? Hilltoppers interim head coach Nick Holt will only be wearing the ''interim'' tag for this game, as Western Kentucky hired Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford last week to replace Brohm. Sanford actually will be in attendance at the game but the players are prepared to play hard for Holt, while he hopes to make a strong case to another college football program that he is ready to be a head coach.
READY-MADE TOUR GUIDES: White and cornerback De'Andre Simmons are among nine Hilltoppers and three Tigers from South Florida, so their surroundings this week from the team hotel to the practice facilities and the drive to other events were very familiar. White has enjoyed playing tour guide to his teammates and reminding them why they chose to play this bowl - the weather. ''Being from Florida I know what it's like, but some of these kids from Kentucky walked off the plane and were kind of amazed,'' White said. ''It's going to be perfect conditions, best on best, and we're excited.''
DON'T FORGET ABOUT DEFENSE: Memphis junior cornerback Arthur Maulet shared the same sentiment as Western Kentucky junior defensive lineman Derik Overstreet when it came to the attention - or lack thereof - being paid to the defensive side of the ball. The Tigers ended the season with a +10 turnover ratio and Maulet came up with two interceptions, two forced fumbles and 1.5 sacks to go along with 61 tackles (48 solo).
WATCH THESE GUYS: Hilltoppers senior running back Anthony Wales (5-10, 195) and Tigers junior wide receiver Anthony Miller (5-11, 190) are two offensive threats that opposing defensive staffs cannot allow to slip free. Wales racked up 1,376 rushing yards and 24 touchdowns on 202 carries. Miller led Memphis with 84 receptions for 1,283 yards and 11 touchdowns.
SECOND HOME FOR WKU: Western Kentucky has come to enjoy coming to South Florida, whether it's to play conference rival FAU on the same field as the Boca Raton Bowl or leaving Miami last year victorious in the Miami Beach Bowl over USF, 45-35. The Hilltoppers routed the Owls at the stadium Howard Schnellenberger built, 52-3, on Oct. 29. Meanwhile, this will be Memphis' first visit to FAU Stadium.
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