Week 6 brought us a small slate of games (5), but we may have finally learned some definitive things about who’s a legit contender and who may be smoke and mirrors.
Let’s take a look back at the week that was in C-USA and my three things we learned from the weekend’s contests.
Like it or not, Western Kentucky is atop the East
On our Underdog Dynasty Conference USA podcast last season, I predicted that Maine would upset WKU. That loss sent the 2018 Hilltopper football team into a tailspin and Mike Sanford II was relieved of his head coaching duties following the season.
To start 2019, the Tops blew a second-half lead against Central Arkansas, losing to an FCS team for the second consecutive year.
Why do I mention this?
In my opinion, those two losses - for better or worse - have shaped the perception of this year’s team.
However, there’s only one team in C-USA that has a two-game lead on the next closest team in the division and it’s Tyson Helton’s team.
After the Tops 20-3 win over Old Dominion on Saturday, they move to 3-0 in the East and hold the edge over Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee State in the division. What should give WKU fans hope that this lead can be sustained is the way that they’re winning games - with defense and the rushing attack.
DeAngelo Malone is well on his way to Defensive Player of the Year award consideration. The junior from Atlanta has 46 tackles and seven sacks through five games on the season, including a nine-tackle, three-sack performance in Saturday’s victory. Alongside him is Juwan Jones who has 22 tackles and 3.5 sacks.
Running back Gaej Walker was lost in the shuffle as a reserve defensive back for his first three seasons in Bowling Green but has cemented himself as the go-to back for the Tops offense. He has three 100-yard performances including a 114-yard day in the win over the Monarchs.
Isaiah Green must develop consistency for the Herd
Marshall redshirt sophomore quarterback Isaiah Green emerged from last year’s quarterback competition and led the Herd to a bowl victory over South Florida. Entering this season, there was little doubt that Doc Holliday’s club would go as far as Green could take them.
He’s shown flashes of being ready to assert himself as one of the best quarterbacks in C-USA. The problem is, he’s still showing the inconsistency that plagued him during his first season as a starter.
Marshall lost to Middle Tennessee State on the road 24-13 and there’s no denying that Green’s four turnovers (3 interceptions, 1 fumble) hurt his team’s efforts to get the win.
The 6-2, 205-pound signal-caller is ripe with talent. The ball jumps off his arm with ease and he’s just as gifted as a rusher, gaining a career-high 95 yards on the ground on Saturday. However, there have been far too many games where the talent has come with gifting the opposing team chances.
In nine of his 15 career starts, Green has accounted for a turnover, including five of those where he’s had more than one.
At 2-3 and 0-1 in the division, Marshall is far from out of it in a year where C-USA seems to be up for grabs for more than half of the league. But they are in a hole behind surprising WKU. an FAU team that looks to be hitting their stride, and the aforementioned Blue Raiders.
MTSU looks to weather the storm for the second year
After a 1-2 start to the 2018 season which included being outscored 84-14 by two SEC opponents, it looked like Rick Stockstill’s Blue Raiders might be bruised and battered before playing a single conference game. Fast forward to the end of the season and it was MTSU who won the East division crown on the final day of the season.
This season, they played three Power FIve opponents (Michigan, Duke, Iowa) to start the year and were overmatched in each game. However, just like last season, they’ve weathered the storm of their murders’ row early-season schedule and picked up a huge win over Marshall on Saturday.
Two major revelations came out of the win over Marshall.
First, the Blue Raiders’ defense against C-USA competition will be more than formidable, forcing turnovers and being a bend but don’t break unit. Second, quarterback Asher O’Hara has entrenched himself as the starting quarterback.
The suburban Chicago native was lightly-recruited coming out junior college, with his only other offer coming from FCS Southern Illinois. After only appearing in one game last season, he’s taken a huge step forward as a passer to compliment his ability as a runner and is protecting the football, only having two turnovers through five games.
O’Hara’s play should bring back memories of a not-so-long lost MTSU quarterback that rewrote the Blue Raiders’ record book as a dual-threat quarterback - Brent Stockstill.
If he can keep his level of play steady through conference play, 2019’s version of MTSU football could look eerily similar to 2018’s.