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WKU Football: Keys to Victory vs. Middle Tennessee
On behalf of all WKU fans everywhere: Middle, you suck.
Alright it’s time to flush the dung heap that was the last two Western Kentucky games and move on to the dung heap of a program, Middle Tennessee. I generally keep it classy in my articles, but I’m going to let the hatred flow a little bit in honor of our pansy sister to the south, Middle Tennessee. You know them, folks, as…
…drum roll, please…
The back fat of Nashville!
You know it. I know it. Middle knows it. Murfreesboro is the back fat of Nashville: You may notice it, but it just kind of is what it is. Nashville certainly wishes it could simply lypo Smurfreesboro straight out of association with Middle Tennessee.
In all seriousness, WKU (2-2, 0-0 CUSA) takes on a very good opponent that should pose a threat if WKU doesn’t have its full arsenal available for this clash in Bowling Green on Thursday night on CBS Sports Network. WKU has pretty much underachieved in each game to start the year and has still waltzed to a 2-2 overall record, which was about right.
If Topper fans had been asked what was fairly acceptable, most reasonable people would probably have said they should be at least 2-2. They’re here, and they were a terrible performance at Troy away from 3-1.
Alarmingly, WKU’s offense, defense, and special teams units have all struggled at times in nearly every game. Special teams is the most solid, but there are still plenty of improvements to be made. Offensively, WKU has been riddled with injuries to the receiving corps. Michael Mathison has been a known injury since fall camp, but other injuries have occurred to all but one of WKU’s top seven receivers.
Defensively, WKU has struggled at times at every level, never really coming together for a solid defensive performance thus far. Consequently, WKU’s defense stands 127th nationally in yards allowed per game. (ed. note - I’d like to again reiterate, the Tops are still in the top 60 in scoring defense and, if not for the Ohio State debacle, would be averaging less than 30 points per game allowed.)
MTSU (1-3, 0-0 CUSA) has had a much tougher schedule than WKU, facing three teams that could give anyone trouble in Alabama, Missouri, and Colorado State. Just because they are 1-3 does not mean the Blue Raiders are a bad team, nor does it mean they are hopeless and/or do not know what they are doing.
On the contrary, Rick Stockstill is in his 97th season at MTSU. Although he has never won a championship, Middle is always competitive, and this year seems to be no exception. This team would be viewed as a real contender if they had found a way to beat Missouri, who they lost to by a score of 23-19. MTSU never trailed by more than two scores and really made a game of it, and Mizzou is now ranked No. 23. Imagine if Middle had beaten them! This could be a different conversation.
Keys to Victory
All Hands on Deck
These keys are going to be more elementary to start out, because WKU just needs to get back to the basics.
First of all, I presume Tyson Helton and staff have been holding back players with marginal injuries so that they can play in games that really matter. Names that comes to mind that should be playing are Blue Smith, Dalvin Smith, and Markese Stepp. Names more shrouded in mystery (Towel Rack staff simply observed which players had obvious injuries on most of these) are Michael Mathison, DBs TK Williams and Josh Shodipo, and former BGHS WR Javy Bunton. Of those several players, Bunton is the one that probably would be no more than a rotation player at best. More than 10 significant role playing players have missed time due to injury in just four games. Most of those guys are presumed starters, or in the case of the receivers, in a full lineup, they would absolutely play meaningful snaps.
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Play Well, Please!
That’s literally all we’re asking for at this point. We know this team has potential, because the Tops have absolutely coasted to a respectable non-conference performance. WKU couldn’t have been much worse than it’s been in so many ways, and the Tops are still in the driver’s seat in CUSA. This is rudimentary, right?
But it’s valid and it’s yet to happen.
We just need to see a good performance. I 100% don’t care about the scoreline if WKU would actually play a good game. If Middle is firing on all cylinders and they win, you know what? So be it. But I sincerely believe if WKU would just do what it should be able to do, the Tops should roll through most of Conference USA and maybe have three difficult challenging games. Middle could be one of them, though.
Don’t Get Caught in the Muckety Muck With the MUTS
MTSU averages 75 yards per game in penalties compared to the low 50s for their opponents. What this means is they’re going to be chippy and will probably try to induce some “muckety muck” and try to get into it. WKU draws 37 yards per game in penalties, rarely commits a personal foul or pass interference, and its opponents commit over 70 yards per game in penalties. As weird as this sounds, this is a matchup advantage for WKU. This could prove huge, especially if WKU can avoid some of the silly penalties they have been committing early on in the season.
Win Special Teams
This is another tangible part of the game that WKU should dominate. MTSU has missed two field goals already this year, as well as an extra point. That is enough of an issue to say something is wrong with the field goal kicking.
WKU is yet to miss, nor has it even looked like Lucas Carneiro is even capable of missing. Obviously he could miss, but so far, he has sent it straight down Broadway every time. Middle’s punter may have a slight edge, averaging 44 yards per punt. However, every other facet of special teams leans toward WKU, assuming the Tops take care of the football.
Be the Clearly Better Receiving Corps
Sadly, this is something we are not sure will be a lock, but WKU’s receiving corps has peformed admirably despite injury. However, it’s time for most of the pieces to get out there and ball out. Middle’s receiving corps is more by committee, but for a WKU secondary that has struggled at times, a team with multiple weapons means they may not be able to tee off on one guy and expect to contain the rest.
All of Middle’s receivers seem to be capable with four guys (just like WKU) with at least 100 yards on the season. The main thing with Middle’s receiving corps is they haven’t had as many injuries. Most of their players have played all four games and have been consistently productive.
Can WKU finally be the receiving corps that it probably should be?
It’s time for WKU to click into place. It’s been real cute playing possum for the first four weeks of the season. Now it’s time to bounce back up off the road before the Pinto that is Conference USA finishes you off.
WKU should be the better team here, but Middle has plenty to offer. For one, they give up less than 400 yards per game, something WKU has only done once this season. Middle also gives up a respectable amount in the air and on the ground for a decently balanced defense. Middle has also done this without really forcing any turnovers (three forced in four games).
WKU gives up over 100 more yards per game than Middle Tennessee but has been forcing several turnovers in each game. That down-to-down competence is a problem that must be fixed.
Middle’s offense boasts a capable, mobile quarterback, although he has not proven elite. He takes care of the ball and can throw some touchdowns (seven touchdowns, two interceptions). Middle runs the ball decently, with four players (including the QB) running the ball for significant yardage.
WKU’s offense has looked pedestrian so far, averaging well under 400 yards per game with the majority of any success coming in the passing game. Interestingly, despite Middle probably having a pretty good year offensively so far in their book, WKU’s worst in half a decade is still about as good as MTSU’s.
And I think that’s where the rub is going to be in this one. I think WKU is still a sleeping titan in Conference USA. The Tops may have given CUSA a confidence boost by not being very good to start the season, but WKU just has to put some pieces together, get a little more healthy, and find some basic solutions at some trouble spots, and the Tops would be solid favorites in virtually every Conference USA matchup.
Even with Middle having some nice looking numbers and WKU looking questionable, against MTSU, WKU still has several advantages. The Tops can boast of a better passing QB, more prolific receivers, a better offensive line, and better special teams.
MTSU could probably argue the slightly better running game, could certainly claim better defense across the board, and could claim a better punter. But WKU has plenty of firepower, and the margins WKU has over MTSU are greater than the advantages MTSU has.
I think WKU has the upper hand here. WKU is favored by 5.5, so Vegas thinks this is a fairly close game. That could certainly happen, but I like WKU to bust out of the slump offensively and move on from anything but really good offensive football. If WKU’s offense improves, I bet the defense gets better, too. Right now, all of the pressure is on the defense, and frankly, they are not currently capable of carrying this team. As soon as the WKU offense becomes what it should be, the Tops will cruise to the top of CUSA.
I think that process starts Thursday.
I’ll take WKU 45-MTSU 31.