Date: Saturday, October 9, 2021
Time: 6:00 PM (CT)
Location: Houchens-Smith Stadium; Bowling Green, Kentucky
TV: Stadium; KMYS-CW (San Antonio Local Channel)
Radio: Hilltopper Sports Radio Network (WKU); Ticket 760 AM (UTSA)
Providers: (TV) Stadium 24/7, Sling TV, YouTube TV, Fubo TV
(Radio) TuneIn (WKU); iHeartRadio (UTSA)
UTSA (5-0), Conference USA. Last game: win over UNLV 24-17
Western Kentucky (1-3), Conference USA. Last game: loss to No. 17 Michigan State 48-31
Western Kentucky leads the series 1-0
UTSA is 5-0 for just the second time in program history and if the Roadrunners win on Saturday they will hold the program record for the best start ever. They have a good chance to do so, but it will require another strong road performance.
The Tops’ 1-3 record doesn’t exactly tell the whole story of their season. Despite three straight losses, graduate transfer quarterback Bailey Zappe is fifth in FBS in passing yards with 1712 and in passing touchdowns with 16. Both of these numbers lead C-USA. Zappe also has only thrown 2 interceptions, and has a quarterback rating (QBR) of 82.2.
Simply put, Zappe could finish this year as one of the most productive passers in WKU and C-USA history. So, why have the Tops only beaten UT-Martin so far this year?
The lack of production from the WKU running game (79 yards per game) isn’t great, but to be somewhat expected in an air raid style offense. The biggest issue in Bowling Green at the moment is the defense. It’s great if your offense is scoring 39 points per game. However, if your defense is allowing 35 points per game the way that the defense is now, that doesn’t leave you a lot of cushion. Each of Western Kentucky’s opponents have also had a career offensive performance of some kind in their matchup with the Tops this season. That doesn’t help either.
On offense, UTSA is averaging nearly 35 points per game and 430 total yards per game, split between 270 yards through the air and 160 yards on the ground. UTSA is even stronger on defense, averaging less than 18 points per game while giving up less than 300 total yards. Even more impressive is that the Roadrunners have allowed over 100 yards rushing only once this season, and it was the opening game against Illinois. Basically, UTSA is so well rounded offensively and defensively that a bad game by one doesn’t spell disaster during a game.
Western Kentucky, on the other hand, is very strong on offense but equally weak on defense. The Hilltoppers also average 520 total yards per game but give up nearly 460 total yards per game, with their passing and run defense each giving up over 200 yards per game.
Here’s the problem: UTSA’s defense is weakest against the pass, especially during the last two games when the defense gave up over 300 yards, while Western Kentucky’s offense is insanely good at passing the ball. By “insanely good”, I mean that the Hilltoppers are so good that they rank number one in the country in passing yards.
For comparison, Quaterback Frank Harris has thrown for over 1100 yards, 6 touchdowns, 2 interceptions, and has a QBR of 58.6. For these categories, Harris ranks 45th, 67th, 34th, and 66th, respectively. Harris is very good, and is a major reason why UTSA is undefeated, but Zappe is just on another level with his arm talent.
UTSA should not expect that it will keep up with Zappe through the air. Instead, the Roadrunners will need to focus on two areas where they typical excel: (1) running the ball, and (2) controlling the time of possession.
UTSA averages over 32.5 minutes with possession while Western Kentucky averages 24.5 minutes. Limiting the number of possessions Zappe has to score will be key. Moreover, UTSA’s best chance to keep scoring will be on the ground given the Hilltopper’s porous run defense. Running back Sincere McCormick has been good all season but unlike last year he has yet to have an absolutely dominating performance. McCormick and the running game will need to exploit its favorable matchup, like Zappe’s matchup against UTSA’s pass defense.
Thankfully for UTSA, a good run game often leads to good time of possession, so if McCormick can have his signature breakout game then UTSA should have no problem maximizing its drives by scoring and keeping Western Kentucky’s offense off the field.
Finally, this game will likely be the hardest test for UTSA’s “bend-don’t-break” defense. The Roadrunners have managed incredible defensive performances this year—they never trailed against Illinois, shut out Lamar, kept MTSU out of the endzone well into the fourth quarter, and held Memphis to just 7 points for three quarters after giving up 21 points in the first 8 minutes of play. But against Western Kentucky, UTSA’s defense will have to find some way to deny Zappe the endzone. Turnovers will be key, and look to cornerback Tariq Woolen and safety Rashad Wisdom for interceptions.
Sumner - This matchup is probably the worst matchup for UTSA defensively all season and Western Kentucky’s offense is more than capable of taking advantage. If the Roadrunners are not careful they could find themselves in a similar situation that they experienced in Memphis. Only this time the opponent’s offense will probably be too much to overcome.
I picked this game as a loss in my season predictions. But this team has proven me wrong twice already, and both of those times were road games (Illinois & Memphis). Those games also demonstrated that UTSA travels strong, unlike previous seasons which was what I based my early predications upon. So I’m going to give the benefit here to head coach Jeff Traylor that he will prepare this team for the bad matchup and will have this team ready to execute a gameplan to win. It will likely be a high scoring affair, but I believe UTSA will do just enough defensively to stop Western Kentucky offensively.
Western Kentucky 35, UTSA 38
Joe - WKU’s defense this year has been disappointing. That being said, their schedule has been tough with losses to Army, Indiana, and Michigan State. Two of those were also on the road. This gives the impression that we aren’t going to really understand how this team stacks up against the rest of C-USA until they actually dive into conference play with this game.
Now, I want to give UTSA a lot of credit. They have a lot of impressive weapons on offense and they are more balanced in that category. As we said, controlling the time of possession and limiting turnovers is going to do the Roadrunners a lot of favors. I think they’ll bounce back from an iffy outing against UNLV.
WKU has also been known to make mistakes early and puts them in positions where they need to play from behind. If they do that again, it’s hard to imagine UTSA not taking advantage.
Western Kentucky 31, UTSA 41