Day: Saturday, November 21
Game Time: 1:00PM CST
Location: Houchens Industries–L. T. Smith Stadium
Series Record: WKU leads the matchup 7-6. Last year, the Hilltoppers defeated the Panthers 20-14 at Riccardo Silva Stadium.
Betting Line: WKU -7.5 | O/U: 43
In last week’s win, Tyrrell Pigrome (“Piggy”) averaged 6.1 yards per pass (YPP). This is 1.0 yard greater than the season’s total average. And while that seems like a small number (and increase), YPP is the most highly significant determinant in win probability. Against Southern Miss., Piggy went 19-30 (63.3%) for 183 yards and had 14 carries for 32 yards and 1 rushing touchdown. While his interception column remained (and still remains) spotless, he fumbled twice last week.
The Panthers are led by redshirt freshman Stone Norton who is 24-44 (54.5%) for 250 yards, 5.6 yards per pass, and 3 passing touchdowns. But the QB1 spot could be up for grabs after redshirt senior Max Bortenschlager went 11-21 (52.4%) for 149 yards, 7.1 yards per pass, and 1 passing touchdown against FAU. Although Norton started, he did not have a completion until the second quarter. Bortenschlager entered and made an immediate impact. Also, of note, Bortenschlager is a Maryland transfer and Piggy’s former teammate. Until a clear QB1 emerges…
WKU’s receiving corps is led by wide receivers Mitchell Tinsley, Xavier Lane, Dayton Wade, and Craig Burt Jr. as well as tight end Joshua Simon. They combine for 130 receptions, 1,216 yards, 9.4 yards per catch, and 9 touchdowns.
With just 44 receptions, the data is pretty limited for the Panthers. Tight end Rivaldo Fairweather and receiver Bryce Singleton combine for 18 receptions, 241 yards, 13.4 yards per catch, and 2 touchdowns. Fairweather – just a true freshman – had 7 receptions, 116 yards, and 1 touchdown against FAU.
After a few games of continued improvement, the ground game did not see that statistical success vs. Southern Miss. However, this could be chalked up to [in statistics vocabulary] “expected variation.” Aside from Piggy’s numbers, Gaej Walker and Jakairi Moses combined for 23 carries and 77 yards (3.34 yards per carry). Linebacker turned running back Malik Staples had 3 carries for 12 yards (4.0 yards per carry). Going forward, that kind of performance will not make a path to victory any easier.
Of FIU’s four games played, D’Vonte Price has already had three 100+ yard games. On the season, he has 61 carries for 481 yards, 7.8 yards per carry, and 4 touchdowns. Shaun Peterson Jr. has 28 carries for 168 yards, 6.0 yards per carry, and 2 touchdowns. Quarterback play may be of question, but the Panthers’ ground attack is solid thus far.
Note: Shaun Peterson is out due to a season-ending injury.
Although they only committed one penalty last week (compared to 4 vs. FAU), WKU’s offensive line allowed 3 sacks, the ground game didn’t have a lot of room to run, and the third down conversion rate was at a dismal 37.5%. But it is not entirely the offensive line’s fault; there is a general lack of offensive production across the board.
Through four games, FIU’s offensive line has allowed 17 sacks (4.25 per game). Making room for the ground game is fine, but unexperienced, mistake-prone quarterbacks make matters more difficult. If WKU’s defensive front brings the heat like they did last week…
WKU’s passing defense allows the fewest yards per game, third-lowest completion percentage, fourth-fewest yards per pass attempt, and fifth-fewest touchdown passes in the league. They’ve looked better compared to the beginning of the season, but a lot of teams have been able to get the job done on the ground. Safety Devon Key – the program’s now all-time FBS era leader in career tackles – leads, both, the secondary and defense with 71 total tackles, 2 pass breakups, and 1 forced fumble. Safety Antwon Kincade has 60 total tackles, 5.0 tackles for loss, 4 pass breakups, 1 quarterback hurry, and 1 forced fumble. Corners Dionté Ruffin and Dominique Bradshaw lead the team with 8 and 7 pass breakups, respectively.
The Panther’s passing defense has allowed 75-115 (65.2%) pass attempts for 815 yards, 7.09 yards per pass, 203.75 yards per game, and 6 touchdowns. DBs Richard Dames and Josh Turner combine for 56 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 1 interception, 4 pass breakups,
Last week, Kyle Bailey had 7 total tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, and 1.0 sack before being ejected for unsportsmanlike conduct. That ejection is being reviewed, so it is not clear if he will play the first half or not. Bailey and Eli Brown combine for 109 tackles, 11.0 tackles for loss, 5.0 sacks, 1 interception, 1 pass breakup, and 4 quarterback hurries. They’ll have to close up the gap against FIU’s ground attack and force Norton/Bortenschlager to throw; otherwise, Price will have a day.
FIU’s Jamal Gates, Josh Powell, and Tyson Maeva combine for 65 total tackles, 6.5 tackles for loss, 1 sack, and 2 quarterback hurries. Maeva left last week’s game with a first quarter injury.
The Tops’ defensive front had another strong showing vs. Southern Miss. Defensive end DeAngelo Malone had 5 total tackles, 2.0 tackles for loss, 2.0 sacks, and 1 quarterback hurry. His now 25.0 total career sacks is a WKU FBS era career record. His counterpart, Juwuan Jones, had 4 total tackles, 0.5 tackle for loss, and 0.5 sack. Defensive tackle and redshirt freshman Ricky Barber continues to impress and is on track for a bright future as a Hilltopper. Last week, he had 6 total tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss, and 2.0 sacks. Defensive tackle Jeremy Darvin had 2 total tackles, 1.0 tackle for loss, and 0.5 sack. Eyes are on the rushing defense, though, to stop FIU’s strong ground game.
The Panthers’ rushing defense has allowed 1,021 total yards, 255.3 yards per game, 5.3 yards per carry, and 8 rushing touchdowns. They are already down a man without redshirt senior Andrew Tarver who started in 11 and played in 13 games last season.
WKU’s John Haggerty has averaged 44.57 yards per punt with 13 punts inside of the 20. Kicker Brayden Narveson has gone 9-of-10 on FG attempts and 15-of-15 on extra point kicks. The kick return game has averaged 14.65 yards on 20 kick returns. The punt return game has totaled 7 punt returns for an average of 3.57 yards per return.
FIU’s Tommy Heatherly has averaged 44.42 yards per punt with 6 punts inside of the 20. Kicker Chase Gabriel has gone 3-of-4 on FG attempts and 10-of-10 on extra point attempts. The kick return game has averaged 28.67 yards on 18 kick returns. The punt return game has totaled 4 punt returns for an average of 12.75 yards per return.
The main difference between the two teams is a matter of health: WKU remaining healthy, FIU not. They have both struggled with quarterback play, converting on third downs, and a rushing defense letting too much get past them. Don’t sleep on FIU, though. If Max Bortenschlager, Rivaldo Fairweather, and D’Vonte Price put up what they did vs. FAU, a victory is not out of the question. WKU’s defense can’t afford any less of a performance than what we’ve seen vs. FAU and Southern Miss. The offense will, simply, have to do more.