Blue Raiders look to become eligible on Friday night at home against the struggling Hilltoppers
Two programs trending in polar opposite directions will square off in Murfreesboro when Western Kentucky battles Middle Tennessee. This matchup has historically produced very even results, with the overall series standing at 34-32-1 in favor of Middle Tennessee. That point has been magnified as of late, with six of the last seven meetings decided by five or fewer points.
Western Kentucky has certainly had a season to forget, having dropped each of its last four games and allowing nearly 34 points per game during that stretch, including last week’s 38-17 loss to Florida International. Davis Shanley threw for only 105 yards on 14-for-25 passing, with Steven Duncan also going 4-for-8 for 39 yards and an interception in relief of Shanley. Joshua Samuel paced the ground game with 83 yards on 14 carries, with the only touchdowns coming on short runs from Duncan and D’Andre Ferby.
Coming off a loss to FIU three weeks ago, Middle Tennessee has rebounded well with wins over Charlotte and Old Dominion. The Blue Raiders put up 51 points on the Monarchs last Saturday, with Brent Stockstill completing all but seven of his 32 passes with two touchdowns and an interception. Terelle West chipped in with 13 carries for 120 yards and a touchdown to balance the attack and give the Blue Raiders their fifth win of the year.
Western Kentucky at Middle Tennessee
Kickoff: Friday, Nov. 2 at 8 p.m. ET
TV: CBS Sports Network
Spread: Middle Tennessee -13.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Battle of the bottom-30 offenses
Both of these C-USA foes enter ranked in the triple digits in total offense, with Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky sitting at 103rd and 105th, respectively. Each offense averages just over 350 yards per game, with Houston pacing the nation at over 571 yards. While the Blue Raiders have been able to rely on their defense to win games, the Hilltoppers haven’t enjoyed the same level of defensive success, especially last week in a 21-point loss to Florida International when WKU tallied 312 yards but couldn’t stop the Panthers.
2. Red zone discrepancy
Success in the red zone can often be one of the defining predictors of a team’s performance throughout the season, and Middle Tennessee has the upper hand across the board. The Hilltoppers rank in the bottom 10 nationally in red zone offense, while the Blue Raiders’ red-zone defense is fourth-best in the FBS, allowing scores on only 66.7 percent of opponents’ trips inside the 20-yard-line. If Western Kentucky wants to have any chance of leaving Murfreesboro with a win, it will have to find a way to penetrate that strength of Middle Tennessee.
3. Can Stockstill’s connections continue?
Brent Stockstill has been one of the most accurate quarterbacks in the nation, with his 69.3 percent completion rate slotting in at No. 11 in the nation. Stockstill’s senior leadership has been on display as he has patrolled the Blue Raiders’ offense to score over 28 points per game this year, and his 15 passing touchdowns are good for third-best in the conference. His passing game may not be the flashiest or most vertical, but his consistency has certainly been helpful to keep the Blue Raiders’ offense moving.
Western Kentucky has won each of the last three matchups in this series, but the Hilltoppers have fallen well short of expectations in 2018. With the loss to FIU rendering them ineligible for bowl contention, the Hilltoppers have little to play for except embodying the role of spoiler for their C-USA rivals. That said, Middle Tennessee has played well since its own loss to FIU and should have no trouble dispatching its rivals to the northwest.
Prediction: Middle Tennessee 38, Western Kentucky 20
— Written by Juan Jose Rodriguez, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network and currently a senior at the University of Notre Dame. Rodriguez was an intern for Athlon during summer 2017 and works for a variety of media outlets on campus, including as the Editor-in-Chief of Scholastic Magazine. Follow him on Twitter @JuanJoseRG02.