Date:Thursday, October 6, 2016
Kickoff Time: 7:00 PM CDT
Location: Ruston, LA
Stadium: Joe Aillet Stadium
TV: CBS Sports Network
Series Record: La Tech leads 3-2
Last Meeting: 2015, WKU 41-38
Betting Line: WKU -2.5
Ruston will play host to one of the biggest games of the year for C-USA as the reigning conference champions, the WKU Hilltoppers, travel south to take on the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs on national television. Despite being in different divisions, these teams have met every year since WKU joined C-USA. La Tech head coach Skip Holtz said that among the players, a rivalry has started to form. He also said several of the players that will be on the field from both teams will one day be playing on Sundays. A huge game is on the horizon.
Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky have met 5 times previously; 4 times on campuses and once on a neutral site. On campuses, the home team has won every game (Tech in 1940/2014, WKU in 1939/2015). The one neutral site was the inaugural Division II National Championship Game in 1973, called at that time the Camellia Bowl. La Tech won that game 34-0.
WKU has won 13 straight games against C-USA opponents. Their last defeat? 59-10 in Ruston, 2014.
Louisiana Tech and WKU are both among the top 4 offenses in C-USA and top 30 nationally (La Tech is #11, WKU is #29). Their quarterbacks are 40th and 41st nationally. Two of the nation’s five leading receivers will be on the field (both named T. Taylor; good luck, broadcasters). This game will be an offensive explosion the Big XII would love.
The defenses aren’t as elite. Both average over 20 points allowed. WKU has had more defensive success, but La Tech has started making changes. After not holding anyone to fewer than 21 points, Skip Holtz made some roster adjustments for the UTEP game and held the Miners to 7. The Bulldogs also saw the running game improve, highlighted by Jarred Craft’s 70 yard TD run. Tech continues to fiddle with the depth chart as they look for the perfect fit, and not just defensively. There’s been some rotation of players on the O-line. The added benefit is always having fresh players on the field. After a lackluster performance against UTEP, punter Gerald Shouse was benched and Logan McPherson came in for the last punt Tech executed. Holtz stated Monday that this week’s practices would see the two compete for the starting job.
Players to Watch
These two quarterbacks will light up the field. Tech’s Ryan Higgins has 12 TDs and 1400 yards. WKU’s Mike White has 9 TDs with almost as many yards. Bulldog wide receiver Trent Taylor and WKU’s Taywan Taylor are both among the nation’s top 5 receivers with a combined 1355 yards between them. Tech RB Jarred Craft has gotten better each game and has amassed over 500 yards and 3 TDs.
Let’s Compare Resumes
WKU is 3-2, Tech is 2-3. Both have played two power 5 opponents and lost, with each team losing to an SEC squad by 1 point. Both teams have wins over an FCS team and a blowout win over a conference team. The biggest difference, then, is that Tech lost to MTSU while WKU beat Miami (OH). MTSU is 4-1 and currently leads the east division of C-USA. Miami (OH) is 0-5. Tech’s conference victory was over UTEP, who is 1-4, while WKU’s is over Rice, 0-5. So, WKU has yet to play a group of 5 team with a single victory, while Tech has played (and almost beat, should have beat) one of the best teams in C-USA. So what I’m essentially saying here is that WKU ain’t played nobody. We’ve yet to see WKU play a “peer,” while Tech has. If La Tech can play 60 minutes against WKU the way they played in the first half against MTSU, they have a strong chance to win this game. If they play like the second half of that game, however, it will be a long night in RusVegas.
Both teams have good quarterbacks and star wide receivers. Both teams can score points but have issues defending. So where’s the difference?
Tech’s Higgins has more touchdowns and more passing yards than Mike White even though he has played one less game (didn’t play against Arkansas). Trent Taylor has 8 touchdowns to Taywan’s 2 and has 151 more yards. Tech’s Jarred Craft ranks 14th in the nation while Anthony Wales ranks 70th.
The catch for the Dawgs is the defense. WKU’s defensive numbers are better, but recent adjustments by Tech seem to be helping, at least a little bit. They still gave up too many yards to UTEP, but they kept them mostly off the scoreboard and found ways to force turnovers, an area where they had been struggling.
Let’s also not forget that this is a short week for both teams, but WKU has to travel. Tech doesn’t.
If Carlos Henderson is healthy, the playbook will open up and WKU will have to deal with short passes to Taylor, long passes to Henderson, and runs by Craft and occasionally Higgins. With an improving defense backing them up, Tech has the opportunity to make a statement and earn redemption for the MTSU game.
La Tech 41, WKU 37