Many expected the 2022 New Orleans Bowl to be a competitive matchup between Western Kentucky and South Alabama. However, Western Kentucky seemed to be the only team that decided to show up in the Big Easy as the Hilltoppers cruised to an easy win over the boys from South Alabama.
In the first half, it was the explosive Western Kentucky offensive unit that stole the show. Western Kentucky lit up the scoreboard by tallying 31 points before the break. South Alabama had no answer for the Hilltoppers as they scored fast, keeping the South Alabama defensive unit on the field. South Alabama tried to keep pace, but Western Kentucky kept delivering blows that would leave the Jaguars stranded on an island of misery in the first half. Western Kentucky finished the first half with 434 yards of total offense, 354 of those yards came through the air. Western Kentucky would eventually carry the momentum of a 31-3 lead to the break.
South Alabama opened the second half with the ball and showed a little life with an opening drive touchdown to cut the Western Kentucky lead to 31-10. From there, it was all Western Kentucky as the Hilltoppers quickly answered the South Alabama touchdown with a touchdown of their own to extend the lead to 38-10 with about 11 minutes remaining in the third. South Alabama returned the possession with an impressive before the Western Kentucky defense made a play and intercepted the ball. Despite good field position following the interception, Western Kentucky was held to a field goal extending the Hilltoppers’ lead to 41-10 late in the third quarter. South Alabama would answer the Western Kentucky scoring drive with a touchdown to cut into the large Hilltopppers lead of 41-17. Western Kentucky and South Alabama would add a few more points each, but in the end, the Hilltoppers would come out on top 44-23.
Western Kentucky quarterback Austin Reed had an impressive outing on Wednesday night in the New Orleans Bowl torching South Alabama for well over 400 yards in passing yards. Western Kentucky fans have grown accustomed to seeing Reed put up video game numbers, but that effort was on display on national television in the New Orleans Bowl. Behind Reeds’ performance on Wednesday night, Western Kentucky showed the rest of the country why fans in Bowling Green, Kentucky are eager about the future of Western Kentucky Football. Austin Reed shattered the New Orleans Bowl single-game passing record with 497 passing yards. Previously that record was held by Lousiana Louisiana-Lafayette’s Blaine Gautier, who once held the record in a game with San Diego State with 470 yards.
Despite the loss, South Alabama still has a lot to be positive about regarding the 2022 season. South Alabama finished the season with ten wins. We will likely see South Alabama next season competing for a Sun Belt Championship as the Jaguars have the pieces in place to continue building a successful future.
On the Western Kentucky sideline, the 2022 New Orleans Bowl is a springboard for a continued future of Hilltopper Football. Coach Tyson Helton is building something remarkable at Western Kentucky with the best yet to come. Heading into the 2023 season, Western Kentucky will likely return to familiar territory as the preseason favorite to win the Conference USA. Western Kentucky will return the key pieces next season to return a championship to Bowling Green, Kentucky.
As the final seconds ticked away, Western Kentucky had too much offensive firepower for South Alabama to keep up. Western Kentucky, led by Austin Reed, made a statement in the 2022 New Orleans Bowl with the 44-23 win over South Alabama. There was no question about it; Western Kentucky was the better team on Wednesday night.