Western Kentucky (1-1) at South Alabama (1-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 14, 7:30 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Ladd-Peebles Stadium (33,471) -- Mobile, Alabama. Television: ESPN3. Home Record: WKU 0-0, USA 0-1. Away Record: WKU 0-1, USA 1-0. Neutral Record: WKU 1-0, USA 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 0-0, USA 0-0. Series Record: First-ever meeting.
GAME NOTES: The South Alabama Jaguars begin their first run at a Sun Belt championship as they host the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers for their conference opener at Ladd-Peebles Stadium.
One week after leading WKU to an impressive 35-26 win over Kentucky on a neutral field for his first victory with the program, coach Bobby Petrino watched his squad suffer a 52-20 loss at Tennessee. The Hilltoppers jumped out to a 3-0 lead, but it didn't last long as the Volunteers produced 31 unanswered points to run away with it. Petrino has had tremendous success as a head coach in the past at Louisville and Arkansas. Including the recent loss to the Volunteers, Petrino's teams have won 18 of their last 21 games.
After suffering a disappointing loss to Southern Utah of the FCS on a last-second field goal in its season opener, South Alabama outlasted Tulane for a 41-39 victory in a thriller at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Jaguars denied a two-point conversion attempt by the Green Wave with 1:19 left and recovered an onside kick to clinch their inaugural win of 2013. Coach Joey Jones went 23-4 in his first three seasons at South Alabama, but his team finished 2-10 in its transitional year.
This will be the first-ever meeting between these new conference rivals. WKU was the only member of the league the Jaguars did not face in their inaugural season in the SBC. This is the first year USA can compete for the conference championship, which makes this season's SBC-opener much more meaningful.
WKU held a 393-382 edge in total yards of offense over Tennessee despite losing the contest. The Hilltoppers were even better in their opener, amassing 487 yards of total offense versus Kentucky. Senior tailback Antonio Andrews is putting together another solid campaign. Last season, the 219-pound back tallied 3,161 all-purpose yards, which was the second-highest total in FBS history to 1988 Heisman Trophy Winner Barry Sanders.
Andrews is averaging 105 yards per game and 6.4 yards per carry in 2013. WKU has a solid second option in the rushing attack in Leon Allen, who has 144 yards and two touchdowns on 23 attempts through two games.
The Hilltoppers had no choice but to air it out last week after falling behind Tennessee on the scoreboard by such a significant margin. Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty had a rough outing, completing only 17-of-34 pass attempts for 222 yards with one touchdown and five interceptions. Junior tight end Mitchell Henry made six catches for 65 yards and a touchdown in the opener. WKU will try to get him more involved again this week after the Volunteers held him to just one reception. Junior wideout Willie McNeal is emerging as one of the Hilltoppers' most effective weapons.
Mostly due to turnovers, WKU didn't give up too many yards last week. However, it did allow Tennessee to average 5.3 yards per carry on 45 attempts and score touchdowns on 5-of-8 red zone trips. The Hilltoppers have struggled against the run in both of their games this season. Senior linebacker Xavius Boyd is the star of the defensive group with 23 total tackles, five tackles for loss and three sacks.
USA compiled 465 yards of total offense and achieved 25 first downs in their matchup with Tulane. Senior Ross Metheny assumed full quarterback responsibilities for the trip to New Orleans after sharing the duties with Brandon Bridge in the season opener. The former Virginia Cavalier completed 19-of-30 attempts for 290 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. Metheny also produced a team-high 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground. The USA offense got off to a great start, but didn't score a touchdown after the 13:59 mark of the second quarter.
Jay Jones has been great in his brief action this season, picking up 156 yards on 20 attempts (7.8 ypc). While Jones is the clear number one rusher, the Jaguars have four productive options in the passing game. Jereme Jones has reeled in a team-high nine receptions for 76 yards and a touchdown. Danny Woodson, Wes Saxton and Shavarez Smith are all going to challenge WKU's secondary as well.
USA's defense picked off Tulane's Nick Montana when the Green Wave attempted to tie the score with a two-point conversion late in the game. The Jaguars registered two takeaways in the contest and limited their opponent to only 45 rushing yards on 27 attempts. Senior linebacker Enrique Williams is a fierce competitor. He leads the team with 15 total tackles to go along with a sack and a forced fumble.
2012 Second-Team All-Sun Belt selection Alex Page has three sacks already. The senior defensive end earned his all conference accolades after finishing with six sacks last season.
WKU will need to establish its running game early as it showed it cannot afford to fall behind its last time out. USA has been excellent against the run thus far, but Andrews is rarely contained in SBC play. The Hilltoppers should be able to conquer the Jaguars if they limit their turnovers.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 34, South Alabama 27
09/11 10:33:42 ET