Western Kentucky didn't just lose its coach when Jeff Brohm left for Purdue. The Hilltoppers lost the architect and playcaller of the country's second-best scoring offense.
Interim coach Nick Holt endowed receivers coach Bryan Ellis with the offensive play sheet. With Brohm, Ellis was just the intermediary, signaling the plays to quarterback Mike White. He had never actually called plays before.
Ellis didn't look like a rookie playcaller on Tuesday, however, as the cub offensive coordinator eclipsed Western Kentucky's scoring average in a 51-31 win over Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Brohm has likely already made decisions as to which assistants will join him and brother Brian at Purdue. If Ellis is one of them, he might have convinced Brohm to give him more duties in West Lafayette. If Ellis isn't, it was a fine audition, as he accumulated 598 yards and improved upon the team's 45 points-per-game average.
Behind a seasoned and dominant offensive line, the Hilltoppers' offense kept Memphis off-balance all night. They threw for 336 yards and ran for 262, and every time Ellis dipped into his bag of tricks, it befuddled Memphis. The Hilltoppers' second touchdown came after Ellis dialed up a big-man touchdown; left tackle Forrest Lamp caught a throwback screen for a 9-yard score. Then a second-half flea flicker helped put the game out of reach.
But isolated, Ellis' best call came as the offense broke into a kneel-down formation just before the end of the half. Instead of kneeling on the football, the Hilltoppers ran a fumblerooskie that gained 53 yards. It earned him the Gatorade shower from his offense at the end of the game.
It looked like a Brohm-led offense for much of the game, but it was when Ellis broke tendencies that Western Kentucky (11-3) took control. Memphis (8-5) had cut the lead to four points midway through the second quarter, but instead of again unleashing an uptempo offense to rebuild the lead, Ellis slowed the game down. The Hilltoppers' ensuing touchdown drive kept the no-huddle offense but clamped the pace. A drive of 6 minutes, 44 seconds was their longest of the season, and the 13 plays wore down a Memphis defense that was already struggling with an offensive line that averages 299 pounds.
Behind that line, running back Anthony Wales ate up chunks of yardage. The senior had seven rushes of at least 10 yards, broke through numerous tackles to tally a career-high 245 yards and scored three touchdowns to give him the national lead with 27. In his past two games, Wales has 61 carries for 454 yards.
Too often, the Tigers lost sight of receiver Taywan Taylor too. Taylor caught a touchdown in his FBS-leading 10th straight game, and his 17 touchdowns rank second nationally.
Memphis was unable to keep pace with Western Kentucky, as it too often failed to produce touchdowns once crossing midfield. Although the Tigers struggled to finish drives, the Hilltoppers scored touchdowns on four straight first-half possessions.