GAME NOTES: A pair of teams sporting identical 3-1 Sun Belt Conference records square off on Thursday night, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play host to the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
With five wins this season, Middle Tennessee has already more than doubled its win total from the 2011 campaign, and it needs just one more win to become bowl eligible. The Blue Raiders have a modest two-game win streak in conference play, having defeated FIU (34-30) on Oct. 13 and North Texas (38-21) last week. They have played well away from Murfreesboro, winning three of four road games.
After dropping a hard-fought matchup with first-place ULM on Oct. 20 (43-42 in OT), WKU bounced back nicely last week with a 14-6 victory at FIU. At 6-2, the Hilltoppers have earned bowl eligibility for the second year in a row.
These two teams have played a tight series, with Middle Tennessee holding onto a 32-29-1 lead. The Blue Raiders had won three meetings in a row before WKU snapped that streak last year with a 36-33 double-overtime victory in Murfreesboro.
The Middle Tennessee offense (30.1 ppg, 424.4 ypg) has shown big-play potential all season, especially in its latest win over North Texas where it scored three touchdowns of 45 yards or longer.
Logan Kilgore is fresh off his best performance of the season, completing 20- of-30 passes for 349 yards and three touchdowns. He's been one of the Sun Belt's most efficient passers all season long, completing 67 percent of his throws for 1,930 yards with 12 touchdowns to just four interceptions.
Kilgore has had the privilege of throwing to the conference's best receiver in Anthony Amos, who leads the league in both catches (53) and yards (794) while hauling in six touchdowns. Kyle Griswould had a career-high 140 yards last week and now has 29 catches for 386 yards and three scores.
The Blue Raiders use a combination of Jordan Parker (334 yards, TD), Drayton Calhoun (218 yards, two TDs), and Reggie Whatley (130 yards, TD) in the backfield now that Benny Cunningham (600 yards, 11 TDs) is lost for the year with a knee injury.
Middle Tennessee's defense has been rather suspect, allowing 28.6 ppg and more than 440 yards per game, while allowing teams to convert more than half of their third-down attempts.
The Blue Raiders have just six interceptions on the season but three of those came in last week's win. Craig Allen is the team-leader in tackles with 61, and he also has a sack and fumble recovery.
WKU's offense (29.5 ppg, 396.6 ypg) is one of the most balanced in the league thanks to multiple skill players who have exceeded expectations this season.
Antonio Andrews has emerged as one of the best running backs in the country as he leads the league with 917 yards rushing. He has rushed for at least 100 yards in six straight games, which is the longest active streak in the country among running backs. Andrews is also a threat in the passing game with 23 receptions for 260 yards and he has scored eight total touchdowns.
The Hilltoppers have gotten great production under center as well thanks to Kawaun Jakes. He has thrown for nearly 190 yards per game with 15 touchdowns to just five interceptions, and his .697 completion percentage is eighth-best in the country.
Jack Doyle (387 yards) has been Jakes' primary target, and his 37 catches ranks third in the country among tight ends. Willie McNeal (23 receptions, four TDs) has also been active in the passing game.
Much of WKU's success this season has come thanks to its defense, which ranks first in the conference in both points (22.6 ppg) and yards allowed (319.4 ypg).
Quanterus Smith (14.5 TFL, 11.5 sacks) has been a menace behind the line of scrimmage, ranking first in the nation with 1.64 sacks per game, and he was named SBC Defensive Player of the Week after racking up five sacks against FIU. Smith has more sacks by himself than do 22 FBS teams.
Andrew Jackson (65 tackles, 10 TFL) and Jack Doyle (34 tackles, five INTs) are also having standout seasons for the WKU defense.
Both teams have displayed balance on offense, and with a pair of good quarterbacks squaring off in this matchup, this should be a fun game to watch. Middle Tennessee's defense will have a tough time slowing down Andrews and Jakes, and playing on the road will make it difficult for the Blue Raiders to keep pace with the Hilltoppers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 34, Middle Tennessee 24
10/31 11:01:57 ET
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