Records: Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (4-6, 3-3 C-USA) vs. Charlotte 49ers (2-3, 2-1 C-USA)
Date/Time: Tuesday, December 1st, 10:30 AM ET
Location: Jerry Richardson Stadium, Charlotte, NC
Fan Capacity: 7% (1,028 students, family members, and university guests)
Betting Line: Charlotte -1.5 (O/U: 48)
All-Time Series Record: WKU 2-1
Previous Matchup:: A second half shutout propelled the Tops past the 49ers, 30-14.
WESTERN KENTUCKY OUTLOOK
4-6 isn’t exactly where many thought the Hilltoppers would be with one game left in the season. That being said, they have won two games in a row coming into this game. A very low scoring win against Southern Miss and a 38-21 victory against FIU last week have highlighted several of WKU’s strengths, as well as their weaknesses.
One thing the Tops do have working in their favor, as well as general positive momentum and a lack of COVID issues is their pass defense. They are allowing a league-best 165.2 passing yards per game. Even if Chris Reynolds was completely healthy, WKU’s secondary would give Charlotte issues. DeAngelo Malone is also continuing to give opposing offensive lines trouble with six sacks and a league-best 11 tackles for loss.
The offense has not racked up the same kind of accolades throughout the season, but have shown significant improvement in the last few weeks. Running back Gaej Walker totaled 127 rushing yards last week against FIU, which was his highest total of the season. With an offensive line that’s finally starting to gel, Walker could get a repeat performance on Tuesday.
In terms of point production, the Tops have been bottom of the barrel with 17 points per game. WKU have also earned a league-worst 276.4 yards per game.
At this point in the year, the Tops may not have a lot to play for, but if they want a victory, Tyrell Pigrome will need to play the best game of his short career with WKU.
The 49ers practiced for the first time in two weeks on Saturday, with the last time we have seen them in action coming over a month ago on Halloween night in Durham. With just three days of practice before facing off with a team that has played twice as many games, Will Healy still has this unit locked in.
“I think we’re the healthiest we’ve been since fall camp,” Healy said on Friday. “As far as availability is concerned, it’s about testing negative over the next few days.”
The current schedule has two games in four days for Charlotte, with the quick two-game homestand wrapping up with a winless FIU team. The hope is that Charlotte and Marshall can work out dates to reschedule their matchup with hopes for the East division crown still in play.
Winning this game starts up front. Western Kentucky has given up the most sacks and has the worst statistical offense in the conference. Three of their four wins have come by three points or less, with the lone double-digit victory coming last week against FIU.
Getting the stars going on offense will be key, and a big day could be in line for Chris Reynolds and Victor Tucker. We haven’t seen Chris Reynolds at 100% but one play in 2020 - the first one against Appalachian State. The junior signal-caller has battled injury all season, but this week we get to see what a month off has done in terms of getting healthy. Expect Reynolds to pull the ball down and run, bringing a key element to a unit that has lacked identity.
Hard-hitting safety Ben DeLuca has tied Jeff Gemmell for the most tackles in program history with 306 and that record will be shattered on Tuesday. DeLuca leads the team with 41 tackles this season and has been a tremendous leader for the 49ers’ program.
The keys to winning this game are getting off the field on third down and limiting mental mistakes. This team hasn’t had a consistent practice or game schedule in nearly a month, so expect late-game conditioning to be a factor. The Tops are converting just 30% of their third-down attempts. Bottling up Gaej Walker and finding ways to pressure Tyrrell Pigrome will put the 49ers in position to secure their first victory since October 24th.
Hunter - This almost feels like a new season for Charlotte. Finding a way to start fast and avoid signs of rust is the goal, but this team only has three days of practice. I think Reynolds and Aaron McAllister will have big days on the ground and the 49ers will pull away in the second half. I’m going with Charlotte 31, Western Kentucky 20.
Joe - WKU have plenty of positive momentum behind them right now after winning two consecutive games. While I do admire what Charlotte have been able to accomplish recently, expecting them to get back to the level they were playing prior to being off for several weeks seems a tad unrealistic, in my opinion. Western Kentucky 24, Charlotte 17 is my prediction.