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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers vs. LSU Tigers Preview and Prediction

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Key SEC teams have suffered true upset losses this college football season. Should Western Kentucky (6-1) pull off the unexpected upset over LSU (6-0) a major reshuffling of the College Football Playoff landscape would be in order.

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The non-conference matchup between the Hilltoppers and the Tigers is a rare treat for college football fans, seeing two of the best offensive players at their given position display their skill sets against one another during a regular season game. All eyes will be on WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty and LSU running back Leonard Fournette when the game kicks off in Baton Rouge. 

The Hilltoppers have one of the most dynamic offenses in FBS thanks in large part to Doughty’s arm. Doughty (6-3, 220) has been on a roll since WKU’s season opener against Vanderbilt when he threw for just 209 yards with one score. Since then he has ripped off six consecutive games of at least 350 yards passing with four contests topping the 400-yard plateau.

On the other sidelines, LSU has jumped into the Playoff picture with a heavy dose of Fournette’s FBS-leading 1,202 rushing yards and a stout, and scary enough, improving defense. The Tigers are coming off a tough 35-28 home win over then-No. 8 Florida staring down a tough stretch of games that includes Alabama, Arkansas, Ole Miss and Texas A&M.

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Western Kentucky at LSU

Kickoff: 7 p.m. ET (Saturday)

Coverage: EPSNU

Line: LSU -16.5

Three Things to Watch

1. Brandon Doughty vs. LSU’s Defense

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The Hilltopper offense runs directly through their senior quarterback. If Doughty gets time to pass and is allowed to get into a rhythm with his receivers this could be a scoring shootout. In WKU’s last contest against North Texas, the Hilltoppers poured it on the Mean Green racking up 683 total yards of offense with Doughty passing for 350 yards, four touchdowns, and one pick even after being taken out early in the second half.

The one area where LSU could be dinged this season is in the secondary. The pass rush is great and improving but the Tigers are tied for 46th in the nation in pass defense giving up 205 yards a game. In their last outing Treon Harris came off the bench to throw for 271 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions.

2. WKU’s Rushing Attack vs. LSU’s Defense

If Doughty gets hot the Hilltoppers have been blessed with tailbacks that have produced. Senior Leon Allen was injured in the second game of the year but redshirt freshman D’Andre Ferby and senior Anthony Wales have stepped up in his absence. Ferby has 317 rush yards on the season off 86 carries with a team-high six touchdowns but missed the North Texas game. Allen, who has appeared in three total games, has come on over the last two contests to post 313 yards rushing with 193 of those yards coming against the Mean Green. Ferby is expected back on the field against LSU after suffering a sprained ankle and an unclarified but presumed concussion.

LSU’s run defense is one of the best in the nation currently tied for eighth in FBS with Temple at 92 yards per game. The reality is WKU will be very lucky to pick up yards on the ground against the Tigers sans a breakaway run. The Hilltoppers are statistically one of the worst teams in the nation running the ball but if LSU sleeps on the run game and only focus on getting to Doughty then some key yardage or first downs could be had.

3. LSU’s Rushing Attack vs. WKU’s Rush Defense

Everything on offense for LSU begins and ends with Leonard Fournette. The Hilltoppers nearly allowed two North Texas 100-yard rushers with Damarcus Smith going for 122 and Jeffery Wilson stopped shy at 91 yards. In WKU’s lone loss of the season, a 38-35 thriller to Indiana, the Hoosiers had 639 yards of total offense covering 284 on the ground.

Florida entered the Week 7 contest against LSU with the nation’s No. 12-ranked run defense limiting teams to 99 yards a game. Fournette picked up 180 on 31 carries. Western Kentucky has the nation’s No. 76-ranked run defense allowing 173 yards a game.

Final Analysis

If Western Kentucky has hopes of defeating LSU two things need to happen: 1) Doughty lights it up for 400 yards with five touchdowns, and 2) the Tigers are caught looking ahead to their next game against Alabama. What makes this non-conference matchup interesting on a national scale is both keys to a WKU victory could happen.

Logic dictates that LSU is just too stacked on both sides of the ball for Western Kentucky. LSU’s offensive line is playing great, especially Ethan Pocic and Vadal Alexander. If Fournette’s touches are limited for one reason or another Derius Guice and Darrel Williams are both capable of controlling the game with the ball in their hands out of the backfield.

WKU typically scores quickly and their defense is used to being out on the field way too long game after game.

Unfortunately for Hilltopper fans, LSU’s offensive game plan is to wear out the opposing defensive front by controlling the game and clock with their ground attack. Look for the Hilltoppers to have their hands on their hips gasping for air early in the second quarter.

LSU is averaging nearly three sacks a game, can they get to Doughty early and often?

Prediction: LSU 48, WKU 28

— Written by Ryan Wright, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and an established media professional with more than two decades' worth of experience. Over the years, Wright has written for numerous sites and publications and he recently started his own recruiting site www.recruitingnewsguru.com. Follow him on Twitter @HogManInLA.