Western Kentucky's offense continually bailed out its defense last season.
Maybe this year the defense returns the favor.
Joe Brown stopped Nathan Marcus a yard shy of the goal line on a two-point conversion attempt with 33 seconds left to preserve Western Kentucky's 14-12 victory over Vanderbilt on Thursday night. Brown made an open-field tackle after Marcus caught Johnny McCrary's pass on the conversion attempt.
"We kind of studied what they liked to do on two-point conversions," Western Kentucky linebacker Nick Holt said. "They ran the exact play that offensive coordinator (Andy Ludwig) has run for years for two-point conversions. We had the perfect call. ... We sat right on it, and Joe Brown made a heck of a play cutting down a big, strong, physical receiver."
Vanderbilt had cut the lead to 14-12 when McCrary threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Trent Sherfield on fourth-and-goal. That was the only touchdown Vanderbilt scored all night, as the Commodores continually stumbled in the red zone against a Western Kentucky defense that had allowed 39.9 points and 509.9 yards per game last season.
"They had to listen to how they didn't play well last year all season long," Western Kentucky coach Jeff Brohm said. "They fought, battled, worked hard, studied. I could see them getting better. I could tell in practice every day."
Western Kentucky has won six straight games in a streak that began last November. Vanderbilt was seeking to turn things around after going 3-9 last year in Derek Mason's debut season as coach.
Mason, a former Stanford defensive coordinator, responded to that dismal year by firing both his coordinators and putting himself in charge of the defense.
Vanderbilt's defense contained a Western Kentucky offense that ranked sixth nationally in points per game (44.4) and fourth in yards per game (534.6) last season. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty had thrown for 4,830 yards and 49 touchdowns last year to lead all Football Bowl Subdivision players in both categories.
That high-powered Hilltoppers offense was scoreless for the first 44 minutes of Thursday's game.
"You're talking about a high-profile offense coming in here, and I thought we applied pressure to Doughty all night," Mason said.
Western Kentucky's Tyler Higbee finally awoke a slumbering offense with a 65-yard reception that set up Leon Allen's 4-yard touchdown run. Doughty and Higbee connected again for a 9-yard touchdown on Western Kentucky's next drive.
Eastern Kentucky 52, Valparaiso 10: Bennie Coney threw two touchdown passes to Jeff Glover as Eastern Kentucky romped in its season opener in Richmond.
Coney, the first of three Eastern Kentucky quarterbacks, completed 11 of 20 passes for 153 yards with the pair of TDs and no interceptions. Glover caught scoring passes of 3 and 30 yards.
Seven Colonels scored in all. Kentayvus Hopkins led Eastern Kentucky in rushing with 60 yards on seven carries and capped the scoring with a 1-yard run to start the fourth quarter. Arien Beasley, Adam Lane and Ethan Thomas also scored rushing touchdowns. Former Cat Dy'Shawn Mobley gained seven yards on six carries but didn't score.
Stanley Absanon intercepted Valpo's Scott Staal in the left flat and raced 56 yards untouched to score. Lucas Williams added a 32-yard field goal.
Murray State 52, Kentucky Wesleyan 12: KD Humphries threw for 385 yards and five touchdowns as host Murray State beat Division II Kentucky Wesleyan.
Humphries connected on 25 of 34 passes for the Racers. Roman Clay rushed 17 times for 96 yards and a score while Nick Taylor ran for 72 yards and another TD. Humphries' favorite target downfield was Jeremy Harness, who finished with 156 yards and three touchdowns.
The Racers held a 31-0 edge at the break and never looked back, finishing with 578 total yards.
Campbell 41, Pikeville 20: DeShawn Jones had 189 yards on 15 carries, including a 60-yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter, to help lead Campbell past Pikeville in Buies Creek, N.C.
Kameron Bryant completed 12 of 19 passes for 138 yards and two touchdowns and added 67 yards on the ground with one score.
The Camels scored 21 of the first 24 points to take a 21-3 lead late in the second quarter. Pikeville battled back with 14 unanswered points, including a 38-yard touchdown strike from Sani Warren to Jamon Langford and a 2-yard Warren run to trim the lead to 21-17 with 10:53 left in the third.
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South Carolina 17, North Carolina 13: Shon Carson ran for 75 yards and a touchdown, linebacker Skai Moore intercepted two passes in the end zone and South Carolina defeated its border state rival in Charlotte, N.C.
Carson, the Gamecocks' third-string running back, made an immediate impact on his first carry early in the fourth quarter, breaking free around right tackle and racing 48 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
The Gamecocks intercepted Tar Heels quarterback Marquise Williams three times. Moore helped seal the game when he stepped in front of Williams' pass on a fourth-and-goal at the South Carolina 8 with 3:40 remaining.
For Moore it was the eighth and nine interceptions of his career. He also finished with a team-high 10 tackles.
Williams finished 19-for-31 for 232 yards and one touchdown. Elijah Hood led UNC with 138 yards on 12 carries.
South Carolina quarterback Connor Mitch was 9-for-22 for 122 yards and a touchdown in his first career start before leaving with a hip injury in the fourth quarter.
The Tar Heels were coming off a horrendous season on defense, allowing a school-record 39 points and 497.8 yards per game.
But under new defensive coordinator Gene Chizik they tackled better and applied more pressure for three quarters, shutting out the Gamecocks in the first quarter and taking a 13-10 lead into fourth quarter.
"Their defense got the best of our offense," South Carolina Coach Steve Spurrier said. "We were very fortunate."
Western Illinois 33, Eastern Illinois 5: Lance Lenoir caught a touchdown pass and sparkled on punt and kickoff returns to help the host Leathernecks roll.
The Leathernecks took advantage of three interceptions and two fumbles by former Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow and 14 Panthers penalties.
This was the second meeting since the two schools were conference rivals from 1934-1997.
No. 22 Arizona 42, UTSA 32:Arizona struggled defensively, was uneven on offense and had trouble putting away a smaller-conference team at home.
That wasn't even close to the worst news of the night. Losing All-American linebacker Scooby Wright to a knee injury early in the game trumped it all.
Anu Solomon threw four touchdown passes to help No. 22 Arizona beat UTSA, but the Wildcats suffered a big blow when Wright went out with a left knee injury.
Wright, who swept the major defensive player of the year awards last season, went out in the first quarter, tried to return and went back out after one play. He spent the second half in street clothes, walking with a cane, and was scheduled to have an MRI Thursday night.
"I don't think it's bad — MCL, ACL, whatever — but I don't want to speculate," Arizona coach Rich Rodriguez said. "We'll see what happens."
Even before Wright went down, Arizona's defense struggled. The Wildcats scored two defensive touchdowns, but gave up 525 total yards to UTSA, which returned two offensive starters.
The offense was good at times, sputtered others, finished with a pedestrian-for-them 392 total yards. Solomon had with 229 yards on 22-of-26 passing, and Nick Wilson added 97 yards rushing.
Utah 24, Michigan 17: Jim Harbaugh was swarmed by cameramen from the moment he stepped off the bus at Rice-Eccles Stadium in Utah. College football's newest rock star had finally arrived to play a game after eight months of hype.
And Utah was sick of hearing about it.
The Utes felt disrespected despite being favored and spoiled Harbaugh's Michigan coaching debut with a smothering defense, beating the Wolverines 24-17 on Thursday night in the opener for both teams.
"We beat Michigan for third time in a row," Utah coach Kyle Whittingham said. "That's a heck of an accolade for our program."
Harbaugh came as advertised — blue long-sleeved shirt, blue cap with the block "M," khakis and lanyard with whistle attached. Unfortunately for Michigan fans, the team didn't look drastically different than the 2014 version. The quarterback struggled and the run game was nonexistent. That spelled trouble for the offense.
"I thought we were playing a little bit tentative in the first half and not coming off the ball like we need to," Harbaugh said. "We did miss some holes, backs missed some holes. All things to grow and improve on and I thought we did at that as the game went on."
Harbaugh, the former Michigan quarterback who returned to his alma mater eight months ago after leaving the NFL's San Francisco 49ers, faced many of the same issues that plagued former coach Brady Hoke.
Quarterback Jake Rudock beat out Shane Morris for the start and the Iowa transfer had a reputation for limiting turnovers. Rudock promptly threw three against Utah, and finished 27 for 43 for 279 yards and two touchdowns. Michigan was held to 355 yards, gaining only 76 on the ground. Eighty of those yards came on Michigan's final drive of the game.
De'Veon Smith led Michigan with 17 carries, but averaged just 2.8 yards. Harbaugh rolled in backups Ty Isaac and Derrick Green and they didn't fare any better. Michigan had the No. 64 rush offense in 2014 and things didn't look any better against Utah.
Oklahoma State 24, Central Michigan 13: In Mount Pleasant, Mich., Mason Rudolph threw for one touchdown and ran for another as Oklahoma State rallied in the season opener for both teams.
The Cowboys were just the fifth Power Five conference school in the last 20 years to visit Kelly
Shorts Stadium, and had to work hard to avoid becoming the first one to lose.
The Big 12 team trailed 13-10 in the third quarter and never showed any physical dominance against the Mid-American Conference opponent.
Central Michigan Coach John Bonamego was making his debut just 13 days after his final radiation treatment for tonsil cancer.
Wake Forest 41, Elon 3: John Wolford passed for three touchdowns and ran 70 yards for another score, and Wake Forest opened by routing visiting FCS member Elon.
Wolford was 20-for-27 for a career-high 323 yards. The Demon Deacons are above .500 for the first time in second-year coach Dave Clawson's tenure.
FIU 15, Central Florida 14: Imarjaye Albury blocked a 47-yard field goal attempt by Central Florida freshman Matthew Wright in the closing seconds, and Florida International held on in Orlando.