Start Time: 6:00 PM ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Betting: Western Kentucky is favored by 9.5 according to Oddsshark.
The Series: ODU and WKU have met three times with Western Kentucky winning each game in a landslide (2014: 66-51, 2015: 55-30, 2016: 59-24).
WKU: Sitting at 4-2, Western Kentucky has had a decent enough season up to this point that many college football fans would be thankful for. That being said, their offensive performance this season has been something of a departure from the past four years. The Tops do boast the #2 passing offense in C-USA with 293.5 yards per game. That has to be taken with a grain of salt, however, as their numbers in that area received a significant boost last week when Mike White threw for 398 yards with 5 passing TDs against now 0-7 Charlotte.
That performance, regardless of the opponent, gave the impression that WKU has improved from their two losses in very winnable games and barely beating a hapless UTEP squad two weeks ago. The area where the Tops have needed to show the most improvement has been in pass protection. WKU has given up a league high 18 sacks this year. The extent of the offensive line’s development will be put to the test against an ODU defensive attack that leads the league with 20 sacks.
Defensively, WKU has stepped up to fill in the gaps, for the most part. Both their rush defense and pass defense are top 5 in C-USA in terms of yards per game and total yards. They also have 5 interceptions to their name. Corner DeAndre Farris has been a huge part of the pass defense with a league leading 10 pass break ups. It will likely mean trouble for ODU and young starting quarterback Steven Williams Jr.
ODU: It has been a disappointing season so far for the Monarchs. After a spectacular 2016 season, Old Dominion was heavily favored to contend for a possible conference championship this year. Whether it be the QB play or the injury bug running a muck, this team doesn’t resemble what all Monarch faithful assumed they would look like. Coming into this game the Monarchs are 2-4 in the season and 0-2 in conference play. They are on a 4 game losing streak to the likes of North Carolina, Virginia Tech, Florida Atlantic and Marshall. This draws eerie similarities to the 2014 team that went on a 5 game losing streak mid-season before winning their final three to become bowl eligible.
The Monarchs rank as the 2nd to last in offensive efficiency, averaging only 287 yards of offense per game (only ahead of UTEP). On the defensive side of the ball, ODU is ranked highest in total tackles and sacks but still ranking 3rd to last in average yards allowed per game with 436. This game will come down to the big men up front creating havoc for WKU Quarterback, Mike White, who threw for nearly 400 yards and 5 passing TD’s last week against Charlotte. Mike White has struggled when he’s flushed out of the pocket and given less time to go through his progression, and with an embattled offensive line, like the Hilltoppers have (most sacks given up in CUSA), this could be the saving grace. A big need for the Monarchs is to play better on third down as they have allowed almost 60% of third downs to be converted in their four losses this season.
On offense the Monarchs need to sustain drives and rely on the rushing attack of Ray Lawry and Jeremy Cox to do so. Stevie Williams needs to take care of the ball and make sure to not make ill-advised throws. He has gotten better as the season goes on but he also needs the wide receivers to step up and catch balls and help the freshman as much as possible. I imagine the Monarchs will try and be conservative and hold the ball as much as possible against this WKU defense that ranks top 5 in both major categories in CUSA.
Joe: WKU is getting better and they got what they needed, which was confidence, from their win last week. As I said, the big test will be whether or not the offensive line can keep ODU’s pass rush in check. That being said, the ODU’s offense doesn’t give me too much reason to worry. Tops win 28-10.
Satchel: With 6 games to go and only two losses available to the Monarchs before they’re out of bowl contention, look for a sense of urgency out of these Monarchs. They know what’s at stake and need to play their best the rest of the season to have a chance. ODU will play well and stay in this game because of the D-Line but will fall to the ‘toppers, 35-31.