Western Kentucky and Louisiana Tech will meet under the lights of Joe Aillet Stadium in Ruston, La., Thursday night as both schools continue their quests for the Conference USA crown.
Louisiana Tech, a West C-USA affiliate, enters Thursday’s contest 2-3 on the season, and 1-1 in conference play, having recently defeated UTEP 28-7 last Saturday. The Bulldogs’ lone C-USA blemish came at the hands of Middle Tennessee in a 38-34 Sept. 24 defeat.
Western Kentucky, of the East, is sporting a 3-2 season record. The Hilltoppers’ two losses were to SEC members Alabama and Vanderbilt. While the Crimson Tide defeated Western Kentucky by 28 points, the Hilltoppers took Vanderbilt the distance, dropping a 31-30 overtime contest two weeks ago. WKU, the reigning C-USA champion, rebounded last week with a 50-3 win over Houston Baptist.
Former WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty, now with the Miami Dolphins, sparkled in last year’s meeting between the two schools, as he shredded Louisiana Tech for 441 yards and a touchdown en route to a 41-28 victory. Thursday’s contest is the sixth head-to-head meeting between the two schools and the third in as many seasons. The Bulldogs have a 3-2 edge over the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky at Louisiana Tech
Kickoff: Thursday, Oct. 6 at 8 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Western Kentucky -3
Three things to Watch
1. Western Kentucky wide receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris
A better 1-2 combo at the position in C-USA would be hard to find.
Taylor recorded 1,467 yards and 17 touchdowns in his junior campaign last season to help lead Western Kentucky to a 12-2 record, including a 45-35 win over South Florida in the second-ever Miami Beach Bowl. With 146 receiving yards in last week’s 50-3 win over Houston Baptist, Taylor brought his 2016 total to 602 to go along with six touchdowns. Taylor has gone over 100 yards in four of five games thus far, including a season-high 165 yards Week 1 against Rice.
Norris already has 452 receiving yards and five touchdowns this season. Last year, he posted 971 yards and six receiving scores. He torched Miami (Ohio) for 187 yards and a touchdown and rattled off seven receptions for 147 yards and two scores against Rice. Last week against Houston Baptist, Norris netted 53 yards and two touchdowns.
2. Louisiana Tech’s offensive efficiency
Head coach Skip Holtz’s offense this season has functioned like a well-oiled machine as it boasts some of the best numbers in the nation in a number of categories. The Bulldogs are 13th in the FBS in passing offense (347.2 ypg) and 14th in total offense (519.8). Also, the Bulldogs are tied for No. 10 in first downs per game (26.2). Louisiana Tech enters this game averaging 36 points per contest. The Bulldogs have the offensive personnel to run with a host of Power Five teams as evidenced by their one-point road loss (21-20) to Arkansas in Week 1, and 14-point setback (49-35) at Texas Tech on Sept. 17.
3. WKU quarterback Mike White
White had the unenviable task of replacing all-everything quarterback Brandon Doughty, who graduated last season as Western Kentucky’s record holder in completions, yards and touchdowns, to name a few. White silenced the critics in Week 1 when he shelled Rice for 517 yards and three touchdowns. The following week, Alabama’s vaunted defense held him to 135 passing yards, but he bounced back against Miami (Ohio) to the tune of 268 yards and two scores. Last week against Houston Baptist, White went 11-for-13 for 225 yards and three touchdowns.
White has passed for 1,367 yards and nine touchdowns against three interceptions on the season. If WKU is to contend for back-to-back C-USA titles, White will have to continue his solid play. Louisiana Tech, which is 10th in the conference in passing defense, will get a good test from the Fort Lauderdale, Fla., native Thursday.
By the time this one ended last year, both teams combined to produce more than 1,100 yards of offense. And with Louisiana Tech entering this matchup averaging 36 points per game, coupled with Western Kentucky’s 33.4, it wouldn’t be surprising to see the two teams combine for that many yards (and plenty of points) once again. But in the end, the trio of quarterback Mike White and wide receivers Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris will be too much for Louisiana Tech’s defensive backs, and should set the tone for a WKU victory.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 35, Louisiana Tech 31
— Written by Elton Hayes, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. A sports reporter for The Meridian Star Newspaper, Hayes also has been an invited guest on “The Paul Finebaum Show.” Follow him on Twitter @EHDC12.