Western Kentucky (5-5) at North Texas (3-6)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, November 19th, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Apogee Stadium (30,850) -- Denton, Texas. Television: SunBeltNetwork. Home Record: WKU 2-4, North Texas 3-1. Away Record: WKU 3-1, North Texas 0-5. Neutral Record: WKU 0-0, North Texas 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 5-1, North Texas 2-3. Series Record: North Texas leads, 4-0.
GAME NOTES: Bowl eligibility is on the line this Saturday evening for Western Kentucky, as the Hilltoppers travel to Denton to battle the North Texas Mean Green in Sun Belt Conference action.
The Hilltoppers did not become a member of the FBS until 2009 and only two years later they are fighting for a chance at postseason play. It has been an up and down season for WKU, which opened the year with four straight losses. However, the team took off after its fourth setback, winning five in a row, and three of those victories were decided by three points or less. Unfortunately this past weekend the Hilltoppers took on the top team in the nation, LSU, and the result was an expected 42-9 rout for the Tigers.
The Mean Green also opened their season sluggish, dropping three straight. Since then the squad has gone back and forth in the win/loss column over its last seven contests. The most recent performance by North Texas was a slim, 38-33 victory over Troy, pushing its league mark to an even 3-3 on the season.
In regard to the all-time series between the two schools on the gridiron, the Mean Green have won all four show downs with Western Kentucky, including a 33-6 decision this past season.
The Hilltoppers do have a shot at a bowl game and that is a bit shocking considering the offense can only muster 20.3 ppg. The majority of that success has come primarily from the ground game, which is churning out 158.9 ypg.
Leading the charge for the Hilltoppers is Bobby Rainey, who is probably the best back in the Sun Belt. Rainey comes into this weekend with 1,254 yards and nine touchdowns. The Hilltoppers rely heavily on him because the passing attack is nothing more than a weakness. Kawaun Jakes has taken most of the snaps for WKU, but he has just seven touchdown passes against 12 interceptions.
The Hilltoppers did not have much success against LSU this past weekend, but that is not surprising, since the Tigers are the best team in the nation. Rainey struggled to find room to roam and finished with only 85 yards on 28 totes. Compounding the problem was Jakes, who completed less than 50 percent of his throws, while finishing with just 97 yards. Jakes was intercepted once and sacked three times.
The offense has been mediocre at best for WKU, and that defense has been even worse, which again raises the question of how the Hilltoppers are sitting at .500 on the season.
This unit has been unable to stop the opposition on the ground or through the air, allowing 16 touchdowns on the ground and another 16 scores via the pass. Against LSU the Hilltoppers were toppled by the run, as the Tigers churned out 291 yards and four scores on a whopping 7.3 yards per attempt.
Western Kentucky did force a turnover and racked up two sacks, giving the unit 15 takeaways and 26 sacks on the year. Those are respectable numbers for a unit that has struggled for the most part. Andrew Jackson has 3.5 of the team's sacks and is far and away the best player on the squad, as proven by his 98 tackles and 15 TFLs, both of which are team-highs.
Much like the Hilltoppers, the Mean Green have struggled to find consistency with the football, which is why the team is averaging just 20.0 ppg.
The rushing attack is producing just 129.7 ypg on 3.3 yards per attempt, and is being led by Lance Dunbar, who has racked up 800 yards and six of the team's 11 rushing touchdowns. Derek Thompson has taken most of the snaps for North Texas this year, but the quarterback has not been reliable enough to carry the offense. Through 10 games, Thompson has thrown for just 1,482 yards and only nine touchdowns.
With that said, Thompson put forth his best outing of the year this past weekend in the win over Troy. The quarterback completed an astounding 31-of-38 passes for 331 yards and two touchdowns. Also, for the first time in a long time Dunbar took a backseat in the offense, and even in the backfield, as James Hamilton led the charge with 105 yards and two scores on the ground.
There is no hiding the weakness for North Texas's defense, as opponents have made it quite obvious that to beat North Texas teams need to throw early and often.
The Mean Green, who are surrendering 33.0 ppg, have been susceptible against the passing, allowing 286.8 ypg and 23 touchdowns on the year. Even though the Mean Green were victorious against Troy, the Trojans used the same approach and torched North Texas for 267 yards and four touchdowns.
The defense did force three key turnovers and also grabbed two sacks in the win. Brandon Akpunku finished with five stops and half of one sack, giving him a team-best 7.5 sacks on the year, to go along with 10 TFLs.
The Hilltoppers do not have a strong passing attack, and even though North Texas's weakness is stopping the pass, look for the Hilltoppers to rely heavily on Rainey, who should do enough to lead WKU to victory.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 31, North Texas 28
11/16 10:40:52 ET