Old Dominion and Western Kentucky have both struggled in conference play this season, but their losing records don't quite show how talented these two teams really are. Old Dominion features a hot rushing attack starring Ray Lawry, who put up 117 yards and two touchdowns in their loss to UTEP two weeks ago. Western Kentucky's high-scoring offense, led by senior quarterback Brandon Doughty (averaging 416 yards per game), has shown that it can score on anyone when it's clicking on all cylinders.
So what has made these two teams so sub par this season? How can they improve to win this Saturday? Here are your Keys to the Game:
1.) Defense - The Old Dominion Monarchs are giving up 37 points per contest, ranked 116th in the country (FBS). Although their offense isn't spectacular, it has done more than enough to win football games: scoring 35 points in their loss to UTEP and even 34 in their Week 2 loss to NC State. Head coach Bobby Wilder can't be pleased with his defense so far this season, and they've had a good amount of time to prepare for the Western Kentucky offense through their BYE week. Expect the Monarchs to show some different coverages and blitz schemes on Saturday afternoon against the Hilltoppers in their attempt to slow down WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty.
2.) Score Early - This Old Dominion offense is not good at playing from behind. In their 56-14 loss to Marshall, the Monarchs found themselves down three touchdowns with nearly eight minutes still left in the first quarter. A similar event occurred in their 42-35 loss to UTEP when the Monarchs found themselves down 28-7 early in the second quarter. In Old Dominion's last victory nearly a month ago against Rice, the Monarch offense managed to gain a 28-14 lead heading into halftime, and would eventually win 45-42 on a last second Ricky Segers field goal. Western Kentucky tends to be hot in the first half (more on that later), so quarterback Taylor Heinicke will need to make sure his offense is ready to roll on Saturday.
Players to Watch - QB Taylor Heinicke, RB Ray Lawry
1.) Defense - Western Kentucky's defense has been atrocious. Last week, against arguably one of the worst offenses in the conferences (FAU), the Hilltoppers gave up 45 points and lost. I could go on and on about these type of results, but I think Western Kentucky's 0-3 conference record suffices. I don't think this defense can improve with Nick Holt as defensive coordinator. It has plenty of talent, particularly in the secondary, to stop an offense like Florida Atlantic or Illinois; the bottom-line is it isn't stopping anybody. Holt will be praying that the Hilltopper defense can make a big play or two, and his job may depend on it.
2.) Finishing Games - Enough ranting and rambling about Nick Holt's defensive tactics. It's not entirely his fault the Hilltoppers are winless in the conference; the WKU offense, averaging nearly 45 points per game, hasn't played well in the second half this season. In its loss last week to FAU, the 'Topper offense accounted for only one touchdown in the second half while the Owls of Florida Atlantic marched down the field and scored 31 points in the final two quarters. In their October 4 loss to UAB, Western Kentucky was outscored 28-12 in the second half. Although there is little doubt that quarterback Brandon Doughty and company can score points, they need to help out the defense in the second half.
Players to Watch - DB Wonderful Terry, QB Brandon Doughty, WR Jared Dangerfield
Western Kentucky can't seem to score in the second half, while Old Dominion seems to just get going late in games. That alone should scare WKU head coach Jeff Brohm, and it certainly scares me. Western Kentucky is favored to win the game by double-digits, but I see it being closer:
WKU 43, Old Dominion 38
Location: L.T. Smith Stadium - Bowling Green, KY
Time: 4:00pm (Eastern time)
Notes from the University: "Black-Out" - Western Kentucky will be wearing their black uniforms and encourages fans to support the 'Tops in their black gear for Saturday's game.