The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will try to finish out a solid run of bowl results this decade with a win over the Western Michigan Broncos in the First Responder Bowl.
The Conference USA side owns a 3-1 postseason record since 2014, and it comes into Monday’s contest with three straight victories, including a road triumph over the Arkansas Razorbacks. Western Michigan is in search of its second-ever bowl win and its first eight-win campaign since P.J. Fleck left to coach the Minnesota Golden Gophers.
Whichever team comes out on top will be the first champion of the bowl in its current version. A year ago, the First Responder Bowl was cancelled because of inclement weather.
First Responder Bowl Information
Date: Monday, December 30
Start Time: 12:30 p.m. ET
Venue: Gerald J. Ford Stadium, University Park, Texas
Odds: Western Kentucky (-3); Over/Under: 53.5
The most intriguing matchup pits Western Michigan running back LeVante Bellamy, who has 1,412 rushing yards, against the Western Kentucky run defense that has allowed 11 touchdowns.
In the past six games, Bellamy racked up five 100-yard and multi-score performances, and in the other one he recorded 74 yards and a score. The senior has only failed to find the end zone on one occasion, and that came in a loss to the Michigan State Spartans on September 7.
During their three-game winning streak, the Hilltoppers allowed three rushing scores, all of which were earned by Arkansas.
If Bellamy’s impact is limited, the Broncos will rely on quarterback Jon Wassink, but he has not played well of late. He has a single performance of more than 200 passing yards in the previous six games, and in two of the past three, he failed to throw for a touchdown.
Wassink does have a few aerial weapons to work with in tight end Giovanni Ricci and wide receiver Skyy Moore, who have combined for 11 of the team’s 20 receiving scores.
But creating scoreboard separation may be difficult through the air since Western Kentucky has allowed 200.5 passing yards per game and 16 aerial scores.
If the Conference USA side holds firm defensively, quarterback Ty Storey could extend his solid run of form. The transfer from Arkansas eclipsed 200 yards in his previous six appearances. Additionally, Storey has not been sacked or thrown an interception in two of his past three games.
In Lucky Jackson and Jahcour Pearson, Storey has a pair of reliable targets with over 70 receptions each.
Western Michigan has allowed 228.1 passing yards per contest, so there could be more room for Storey and his teammates to work with compared to their counterpart. The Hilltoppers may also have more offensive balance since it possesses a 1,000-yard rusher in Gaej Walker.
If Western Kentucky benefits from its dual-threat capability, it could cover the three-point spread.
Given the effectiveness of Bellamy, Western Michigan should be able to score on a few occasions, which may push the total past the over/under of 53.