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WKU Football: Keys to Victory at Troy
The Tops lost to the Trojans in 2022. What do the Tops need to do exact revenge on the Trojans?
Western Kentucky has one of its most intriguing, seemingly even non-conference games in years on Saturday.
The Troy Trojans will host the Hilltoppers on Saturday, with the Tops are hoping to get revenge on the Trojans, who defeated WKU 34-27 in Bowling Green last season.
Troy’s defense clamped down on the Tops and forced Austin Reed to make two crucial turnovers: An interception immediately following the Trojans’ first touchdown in the second quarter and a game-sealing fumble with 61 seconds to play.
It’s a new year, but Troy and WKU are both favorites in their respective conferences. WKU (2-1, 0-0 CUSA) has as good of a record as realistically possible thus far. However, the Tops have not looked invincible. (Certainly the rushing defense has left something to be desired.)
Troy (1-2, 0-1 SBC) is already on the ropes in its own conference, losing to James Madison 16-14 last week. Troy has had its own weaknesses, struggling to consistently run the ball despite an elite running back (Kimani Vidal) and have coughed the ball up on multiple occasions.
Defensively, the Trojans so far are giving up nearly 30 points per game.
Both teams have been underwhelming. Let’s see how it goes on Saturday.
Keys to Victory
WKU’s Explosiveness vs. Troy’s Steadiness
As I look into this one, it feels like WKU needs to make some big plays to win. If WKU plays a “steady Eddie” game, where they try to march down the field and dink and dunk, I think that spells trouble. Troy has trouble protecting the football and protecting the quarterback. WKU’s defense needs to step up and make some plays and to capitalize on a susceptible offensive line. WKU’s DBs (or whoever), need to come together and make some good things happen. I believe if WKU makes it a crazy game with a lot of big gains and risk, that bodes well for the Tops.
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For the Love of All Things Holy, STOP THE RUN!
Troy’s Vidal has had an up-and-down year thus far himself, seeing his production (and workload) decrease each week: He rushed for 248 yards against Stephen F. Austin (on 25 carries), 83 against Kansas St. (17 carries) and 27 last week vs. JMU (11 carries)
If the Hilltopper defense can keep his rushing total under 150, the Tops will be in good shape. Over 200 spells disaster, under 150 forces Troy’s somewhat suspect passing game to try to make up for it.
Junk it Up on Defense
WKU’s defense thus far has not been good enough to just go straight at an offense and force them into tough situations. Generally, that is a clear advantage to the opposing offense. However, WKU has gotten home to the quarterback, has 12.0 tackles for loss in three games, and are able to force turnovers (four interceptions, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries). On top of that tendency, Troy’s O-Line has given up 10 sacks on the young season. The Tops better feast on this opportunity, get right, and blow up the backfield with red and white.
Austin Reed Needs to be Austin Reed
If WKU’s quarterback lives up to his potential, in my opinion, you can put a wrap on this one and WKU will win by multiple touchdowns. Austin Reed’s potential is so high that an excellent game, given all of the other game factors, should pretty much seal the deal.
Here is the issue, though: The Tops have not looked particularly explosive thus far in 2023. 34 points per game seems like plenty, but a couple of defensive touchdowns have inflated that number a bit. WKU’s offense is generally a 40 points per game, 500 yards or more type of offense. So far, it’s a 29.6 point per game, 394 yards offense.
If that happens Saturday, Tops win.
Special Teams Must be Sharp
Saturday very well could be a possession type of ball game where field position and drive management come into play. If that’s the case, special teams can make the different. Troy’s Scott Taylor Renfroe missed a field goal from 40 yards last week (in a game that ended with a two point Troy loss), with his longest field goal so far this year coming from 37 yards out.
Lucas Carneiro has already shown an insane leg in his first three games, hitting a long of 43 and going a perfect 4-4 on field goals (as well as 13-13 on extra points).
Tom Ellard tends to punt the ball shortish, but is deadly accurate and rarely allows a return. Cory Munson is a machine on kickoffs, doing exactly what he’s asked just about every time he steps out onto the field.
Special teams could make all the difference if given the opportunity. (ed. note - After last week’s coaching philosophy, ‘given the opportunity’ is the man statement here.)
With the persistent running game issues on defense and the 63-10 result from last week, perhaps it’s time to take a step and admit that this WKU team is not at maximum capacity yet. However, we also haven’t seen a 100% healthy Hilltopper team yet, with injuries to both the receiver room and all throughout the defense.
However, whatever the reason or excuse, WKU should not be struggling this far into the season to have a consistent front six. WKU should not have tendencies to be somewhat anemic compared to other years offensively. Although Reed has completed nearly 65% of his pass attempts, and has thrown for just 80 fewer yards through three games this year than through the first three last year, he has still had several moments where he just looked unsettled and inaccurate.
I’m concerned that WKU needs another week to get right, be it from injury and/or developing in the lab a little bit, so to speak.
I think WKU is going to suffer with a terrible matchup this week. WKU’s receivers have proven they have depth, but they have not had an elite day thus far despite acquitting themselves quite nicely. Defensively, what is WKU’s greatest issue? Stopping the run. This is not the running back to face if you struggle to stop the run.
Given that this is on the road in what should be a tough, loud environment, I think a coin flip type of game could swing Troy’s direction because of matchup and home field advantage.
I hate doing this in a winnable game, but I’m still struggling to see WKU dominating against good teams with good defenses.
WKU is going to struggle to score against a quality Trojan defense. Don’t be surprised if WKU barely gets to 20 points or so.
Unfortunately, I’ll take Troy over the Tops, 28-24.