Western Kentucky came into Saturday’s game needing to correct some issues with their offense and gain some confidence with a resounding win over one of the worst teams in FBS. It’s hard to say whether or not either of those things were accomplished.
The Tops finished their first drive of the game with a turnover on downs at the 50-yard line. That helped UTEP get close enough for a field goal attempt. That attempt, however, resulted in the first of three misses on the day from Miner kicker Brady Viles.
Both teams then traded punts until early in the second quarter when WKU took an early lead with an 8 play, 45-yard drive that ended with Mike White carrying the ball across the goal line from five yards out. WKU went for the two-point conversion with Drew Eckels at quarterback and he converted on a pass to tight end Deon Yelder.
UTEP did immediately answer on the next possession with a 75-yard drive concluding with a 15-yard touchdown pass to Kavika Johnson from Zack Greenlee. The extra point attempt that followed was good.
Western’s next possession was a three and out, and UTEP quickly got back into the red zone with a 31-yard pass from Greenlee to Walter Dawn Jr. Two plays later, Greenlee rushed for 5-yard touchdown. The extra point attempt was good and UTEP took a 14-8 lead. Western was unable to shorten the deficit before the end of the half as Ryan Nuss missed a 43-yarder on the following possession.
UTEP had the first possession of the second half, but punted after six plays. WKU then put together their best drive of the day: 13 plays to go 80 yards for a touchdown. It ultimately ended with Mike White plunging forward on the one yard line for his second rushing touchdown of the night. He’s now up to four on the year. White was also 24 of 37 on Saturday for 208 yards through the air.
The extra point from Nuss made it 15-14, which would be the final. UTEP missed a 47-yard field goal attempt on the next drive and a 41-yard attempt with two minutes to play.
Following the game, WBKO’s Chad Bishop spoke with head coach Mike Sanford about his team’s performance.
“Obviously, I’m not entirely pleased with our complete performance”, Sanford said. “But I’ll tell you this: for us to get our first win of the season on the road and our first conference win...a win is a win. It’s going to go up in the left hand column.”
Sanford went on to say that he was proud of his team’s resolve in all three phases as well as the fact that the Tops didn’t turn the ball over on Saturday.
Quarterback Mike White expressed similar feelings following the win.
“It’s a nice little wake up call for our team that it’s not last year”, White stated. “Nothing is set in stone. Nobody’s going to roll over for us just because we’re the defending conference champs. We have a target on our backs. We have to go into every game, take it seriously, and we got to learn.”
On the one hand, yes a victory, no matter how it comes, is crucial for this Tops team that is obviously very different from the last three or so seasons. But on the other hand, this was a particularly ugly game for WKU. UTEP was able to outgain them in total yards 287-282 and held the ball for six more minutes. WKU also scored just twice on a team that was giving up an average of 45 points prior to Saturday.
I can’t wait to hear Mike Sanford spin this near disaster. Can’t claim progress in this one, had 2 weeks and should have lost to an 0-5 team— The Towel Rack (@TheTowelRackWKU) October 8, 2017
Western Kentucky improves to 3-2 on the year, while UTEP drops to 0-6. The Hilltoppers next host Charlotte next Saturday, October 14th, at 3:30 CT.