Mike White and the Hilltoppers enter Friday night's Conference USA divisional matchup with the Monarchs on a three-game winning streak
Western Kentucky (4-2) extended its winning streak to three games last week in a 45-14 blowout victory over Charlotte. The Hilltoppers had a season-high 627 yards of total offense, including 398 passing yards and six total touchdowns from senior quarterback Mike White, who is starting to play some his best ball of the year.
Trending the opposite direction, after starting the season 2-0, Old Dominion (2-4) comes into Friday’s matchup riding a four-game losing streak after getting blown out last week at Marshall 35-3. While the offense has had its fair share of blame, the defense has been the main culprit, giving up on average 46 points per game over the last month.
If Old Dominion doesn’t get the defense turned around in a hurry on Friday night, this losing streak will extend to five games.
Western Kentucky at Old Dominion
Kickoff: Friday, Oct. 20 at 6 p.m. ET
TV Channel: CBSSN
Spread: Western Kentucky -9.5
Three Things to Watch
1. Turning the corner
Coming into last week’s matchup against Charlotte, Western Kentucky starting quarterback Mike White had thrown just two touchdown passes through five games – just one year after throwing 37 TDs. The light turned against the 49ers as White combined for six total touchdowns, including five through the air to five different receivers in the blowout victory. Questions were arising for the Hilltoppers early in the season after a two-game losing streak in which White did not have a single TD pass, but the offense appears to have turned a corner, averaging a little more than 30 points per game during this recent three-game winning streak. If Western Kentucky is to keep pace with Marshall in the Conference USA East Division race, White will need to continue his stellar play.
2. Freshman struggles
Against North Carolina in Week 3, 17-year-old quarterback Steven Williams provided Old Dominion with a spark on offense, throwing for two touchdowns in the losing effort. But with most freshman, Williams has seen his share of struggles of late, throwing six interceptions in the last three games and has yet to top 200 passing yards. It is not just Williams, though, either as the entire offense has struggled as a whole, ranking 122nd out of 129 FBS teams in scoring. Getting starting running back Ray Lawry (above, right) healthy and back in the lineup should help, but if Williams cannot stretch the field with his passing, opposing teams will continue to load up the box against the run.
3. Changing the past
Old Dominion and Western Kentucky have only faced off three times in their short history as conference foes, and none of the previous matchups have been all that close as ODU has yet to hold Western Kentucky under 55 points. And with the way that Mike White has been slinging it of late, and how poorly Old Dominion’s defense has been, would it surprise anyone to see that streak extended to four games of 55-plus points? The Monarchs are getting dangerously close to putting their chances at postseason play in risk, so changing their recent lack of success against Western Kentucky would be a good start at turning the season around.
On paper, this does not look to be an even matchup. Western Kentucky is hitting its stride at the right time of the year while Old Dominion cannot get out of its own way offensively or defensively. The Hilltoppers are averaging more than 30 points per game the last three weeks, and the Monarchs are allowing 44 points during that same span. WKU is in the top 20 in the country in scoring defense while Old Dominion ranks 110th. Anything can happen on a Friday night in October as we saw this past weekend, but Western Kentucky should cruise to a fourth straight victory.
Prediction: Western Kentucky 38, Old Dominion 17
— Written by Mike Bainbridge, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. Bainbridge is a graduate of Northern Illinois University. Follow him on Twitter @MBainbridgeCFF.
(Photo courtesy of WKU Athletics/Steve Roberts)