After an upset filled week in which traditional favorites Southern Miss and Marshall were both upset by first-year head coaches at UTSA and North Texas respectively, and Louisiana Tech taking down last year’s conference winner Western Kentucky, this week we could potentially see even more upheaval within the conference.
This week in Conference USA is all about Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky.
Choosing C-USA record: 45-14
Game of the Week
Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee (Middle Tennessee -2.5)
100 Miles of Hate. Western Kentucky. Middle Tennessee. In the preseason this rivalry game had the potential of being the game of the year for C-USA and with Marshall’s fall, it appears it will be just that (although it won’t decide C-USA East just yet as FIU and Old Dominion are both 2-0).
There will be plenty of points in this week’s matchup as both teams feature explosive offenses and shaky defenses. Western Kentucky was torched last week against Louisiana Tech as Ryan Higgins passed for 454 yards and 5 touchdowns. Carlos Henderson had 8 receptions for 232 yards and 3 touchdowns.
Brent Stockstill and Richie James are more than capable of producing a similar stat line. Unlike La Tech who primarily lived off of explosive plays last week, MTSU ranks a modest 78th in Passing IsoPP. Rather that MTSU beating WKU’s secondary with the long ball, I see them sustaining drives with intermediate routes and short passes. Something the Hilltoppers struggle to defend.
WKU’s defense is 108th in Passing Success Rate and against a Tony Franklin offense that’s not a place where you want to be. The Hilltoppers struggled mightily getting off of blocks to defend the screen against Tech and Franklin loves to utilize those same passing concepts. MTSU’s Passing Success Rate is 24th. After struggling last week it’s hard to envision the Hilltoppers turning the corner as they must go on the road yet again to stop a potent offense and I haven’t even mentioned I’Tavius Mathers, who has rushed for 582 yards, 8 touchdowns, with 6.3 yards per carry.
Fortunately for Western Kentucky they have the firepower on offense to go point for point with MTSU. Mike White had the best game of his career last week as he tossed 5 touchdowns for 340 yards with zero interceptions. But just like last week, they can’t afford to start the game slow offensively.
MTSU’s defense has struggled to stop the run as they rank 99th in Rushing Success Rate. WKU is pretty good when they decide to run as the rank 40th in Rushing Success Rate. After attempting 50 passes to 23 runs against La Tech, Jeff Brohm should implement a more balanced attack and in order to pull off the upset he might need too.
Shortening the game on the road would be a good strategy with how poor his defense currently is. Anthony Wales has rushed for 424 yards and 6 touchdowns with 6.0 yards per carry. Wales played well last week as he rushed for 83 yards and 1 touchdown but he only had 14 carries due to the Hilltoppers falling behind.
Against North Texas, Louisiana Tech, and Bowling Green, the Blue Raiders started really slow on offense in the first half so they probably won’t be an issue should Brohm want to feature Wales early in the game.
S&P+ gives the Blue Raiders a 63 percent chance to win this game. I think that’s way too high and see this as more of a coin flip with a slight edge to MTSU.
This is MTSU’s moment. It’s been a while since the Blue Raiders have had this much buzz surrounding the program and with this being a home contest there should be no excuse for students to not be at Johnny “Red” Stadium.
My brain says MTSU but my gut is telling me that the Hilltoppers have one last stand in them. Western Kentucky pulls off the upset on the road and wins 48-44 as Wales rushes for over 150 yards and a couple touchdowns.
The Rest of C-USA...
Louisiana Tech at UMass
The Bulldogs start slow but put on the burners in the second half to win by multiple touchdowns as I don’t see the UMass secondary keeping up with Trent Taylor and Carlos Henderson.
Louisiana Tech 42 UMass 24
FIU at Charlotte
Charlotte is coming off a thrilling upset over FAU and now faces a surging FIU team. I see the Panthers continuing their winning ways under Ron Cooper and pound the 49ers behind Alex Gardner and Anthony Jones and advance to 3-0 in conference play for the first time as members of C-USA.
FIU 38 Charlotte 24
UTSA at Rice
David Bailiff’s last stand. Rice is coming off of a bye-week while UTSA will be entering this game with a ton of confidence after upsetting Southern Miss. I have a feeling Rice will make this one interesting and keep it close throughout but UTSA will find a way to win.
UTSA 27 Rice 21
FAU at Marshall
Both teams enter this game on losing streaks and have woefully underachieved this year. FAU’s confidence is shot right now and I don’t see them picking up the pieces on the road to keep this game competitive.
Marshall 40 FAU 17
Southern Miss at LSU
Southern Miss allowed 339 rushing yards to UTSA. Leonard Fournette is slated to miss the game but backup Derrius Guice has been great in his absence. It’s a night game in Baton Rouge and not even some of the SEC’s best teams have been able to defeat the Tigers in that atmosphere. LSU is going to run Southern Miss straight over.
LSU 41 Southern Miss 20