Time and Date: December 3, 2021 - 7 PM ET, 6 PM CT
Broadcast Network: CBS Sports Network
Location: Alamodome - San Antonio, Texas
Spread: WKU -3.0
ESPN FPI: UTSA 50.7%
All-Time Series: The series is tied 1-1
Last Meeting: The Roadrunners defeated the Hilltoppers 52-46 earlier this season in Bowling Green, KY.
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Preview
The 8-4 Hilltoppers overcame a slow, 1-4 start to the season to rattle off seven straight victories and become the most productive offense in the nation. Quarterback Bailey Zappe leads all of FBS in both passing touchdowns (52) and passing yardage (4968). Zappe is also now the C-USA record holder for most passing touchdowns in a single season.
While the WKU coaching staff has been a large proponent for him as a Heisman candidate, Group of Five fans know all too well how unlikely that is. Nevertheless, Zappe’s performance was arguably the biggest factor in WKU’s run to take C-USA East.
In his last meeting with UTSA, Zappe threw for 523 yards and five touchdowns with one interception in a loss. The Tops have not lost since that game.
When it comes to the defense, the Tops have improved greatly following that start to the season. WKU currently ranks second in FBS in interceptions with 19. However, they still rank as one of the worse teams in C-USA when it comes to yards allowed per game (411.3) and points allowed per game (27). In their last seven games, however, WKU has not allowed more than 21 points.
If the Tops are looking to win their first C-USA title since 2016, they will need to keep this hot streak going for just a bit longer. In addition, they will need to clean up early mistakes and secure a strong start. The Tops are only averaging 8.2 points in the first quarter this year compared to 13.5 in the second quarter, 7.9 in the third, and 12.2 in the fourth. The Tops lead the nation in points scored in the fourth quarter.
UTSA Roadrunners Preview
UTSA was handed their first loss of the 2021 season last weekend by a hated rival, the North Texas Mean Green. One loss in an otherwise perfect season, and one that came after UTSA locked up the CUSA West, shouldn’t dampen a historic first trip to the CUSA championship. But the manner in which UTSA lost was concerning. The Roadrunners looked sluggish, overwhelmed, and undisciplined in a 45-23 rout, causing many in the fanbase feelings of consternation and dread for this week’s matchup.
But the reality is that one game rarely defines a season, and the Roadrunners are exactly the type of team to bounce back.
Quarterback Frank Harris gave his best offensive performance this season against Western Kentucky. He threw for 349 yards, 6 touchdowns, and only 1 interception, ran for 51 yards, and caught 1 touchdown himself on a trick play. He will be called upon again for a similar performance to keep pace with the Hilltoppers. He can do it too.
Meanwhile, running back Sincere McCormick should pace the Roadrunners’ running offense. He had only 12 touches against North Texas but should have at least 20 against Western Kentucky. If he can eat up yardage and clock at the same time it will go far in helping UTSA score points while keeping Zappe and the Hilltopper’s offense off the field.
UTSA’s defense came in clutch in the last meeting by intercepting Zappe to seal the win. The Roadrunners still lead the conference in allowing the least number of points per game (22.2) while boasting a +11 in takeaways. The defense does not have to shut the Hilltoppers down to win, but it does have to cause enough havoc and play a tight enough game to contain Zappe, just as it did in the previous matchup.
Finally, the Roadrunners have typically come out sluggish in the first half and adjusted in the second, the UNT loss notwithstanding. That cannot happen against an offense like Western Kentucky’s because the score could easily jump to a two or three possession deficit and be too deep and insurmountable to overcome. Head coach Jeff Traylor should have his players focused from the minute the game starts to avoid that outcome.
Joe: Western Kentucky has the benefit of momentum after last week’s win and the Zappe story has been amazing. That being said, and I said this on the podcast as well, I have a hard time seeing UTSA not seize the opportunity to end their season with a victory and a conference championship after everything that they have been able to do this year and playing this game on their home turf. That being said, they’re going to have to score a lot of points.
UTSA 55, WKU 52
Sumner: Western Kentucky is not the same team UTSA played earlier this season. The Hilltoppers have looked unstoppable since UTSA beat them in Bowling Green. And there is much to be concerned about regarding the matchup with UTSA’s secondary and Western Kentucky’s passing attack. I’d say if this game is played 100 times, Western Kentucky prevails at least 60% of the time. But I’m picking the 40% on this one. The Roadrunners have done just enough to squeak out wins in close contests all season and will have a massive home crowd in support. Destiny seems to favor them. I picked against UTSA last time they faced Western Kentucky and was proven wrong. I won’t do that a second time.
UTSA 48, WKU 44