Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (5-3, 4-1 C-USA) vs Florida Atlantic Owls (5-3, 3-1)
Date & Time: Saturday, November 2nd 2019
Location: L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, KY
Betting Line: WKU -1.0 O/U 51
All-Time Series Record: FAU leads 7-3
Previous Matchup: FAU have won both of the last two matchups, including last year’s 34-15 result in Boca Raton.
The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers had a four game win streak snapped last week at the hands of Marshall. Even with that heartbreaker of a result, the Tops still lead C-USA east with Marshall and FAU tied for a very close second.
Last week really wasn’t all that bad of a performance from Tyson Helton’s team, all thing considered. Three turnovers and a pair of crucial missed kicks turned out to be the difference however. The latter part of that sentence tells the tale of possibly the most frustrating part of WKU’s season so far. Freshman placekicker Cory Munson is showing his inexperience a bit with a 61.1% field goal percentage making just six of his 13 field goals from beyond 30 yards.
On a positive note, the WKU defense has been one of the biggest pleasant surprises in the entire league this season. The Tops are allowing just 18.9 points per game with defensive end DeAngelo Malone still leading the league in both tackles for loss and sacks.
On offense, grad transfer QB Ty Storey is playing relatively well with only two interceptions so far. Gaej Walker remains the Tops’ biggest offensive weapon though averaging four yards per carry on the season and running in two scores last week against Marshall.
WKU have shown they have division championship potential this year, but how they respond to last week’s defeat will be very telling.
Lane Kiffin’s Owls have no margin for error if they are to win C-USA East. With Marshall owning the tiebreaker over both WKU and FAU, this is a virtual elimination game.
Last time here FAU made a statement that they were the team to beat in 2017. Two years later and a good chunk of those playmakers from that team are gone. For this matchup the offense’s success will likely be determined by the play of Chris Robison, the offensive line, and his reliable tight ends Harrison Bryant and John Raine.
Although the offense is nowhere near the explosive unit we saw in 2017, as the season has progressed I have felt more confident in their ability to stay away from backbreaking turnovers and to turn it on when need be.
Considering WKU is similar to Marshall in that they are a team that thrives off of the play of their defense, FAU needs to take advantage of every opportunity they have to get six points in the red zone. WKU only averages 22.4 points per game so the Tops are going to look to make this as low scoring as possible. If this somehow gets into a shootout, the Owls have to like their chances.
After getting gouged by Marshall on the ground, WKU will be sure to follow the same blueprint and to pound the Owls with the run. The front seven, particularly Rashad Smith, Tim Bonner, and Ray Ellis must show up. WKU averages 113 rushing yards per game, good enough for 12th in C-USA. Despite those numbers, they are 4th in C-USA in Time of Possession. Even if the offense isn’t successful, milking the clock will still be at the top of their list. FAU isn’t that deep on the line of scrimmage so if the Tops are moving the ball and bleeding the clock, the Owls will be in for a long game.
Prediction and Final Score
Joe: If WKU can find a way to execute better on special teams, then I believe that they will pick up a 32-27 win this week.
Cyrus: The magic number for FAU has to be 28 points. If they can reach that number I don’t see WKU being able to keep up. During Kiffin’s time in Boca the Owls have had problems with teams who are either just as athletic, if not more than they are, and teams who can score in bunches. WKU fits neither of those descriptions. As long as the Owls don’t give WKU any short fields with poor special teams, the Owls should win by 10 points at least. FAU 34 WKU 20.