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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 27, 6:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: FIU Stadium (23,500) -- Miami, Florida. Television: None. Home Record: WKU 2-1, FIU 1-4. Away Record: WKU 3-1, FIU 0-3. Neutral Record: WKU 0-0, FIU 0-0. Conference Record: WKU 2-1, FIU 0-3. Series Record: FIU leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: Coming off their first Sun Belt Conference loss in more than a year, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will try to get back on track on Saturday night when they take on the FIU Panthers in Miami.
WKU appeared to be well on its way to a 3-0 start in conference play last week against ULM, but it coughed up a fourth-quarter lead and eventually fell in overtime, 43-42. The loss snapped a four-game win streak for the Hilltoppers and a nine-game conference win streak dating back to last season. They have performed very well away from home this season, going 3-1 with wins over Kentucky (32-31), Arkansas State (26-13) and Troy (31-26).
FIU's season has been disastrous through seven games, with its only win coming in a non-conference tilt with Akron on Sept. 8, 41-38. The Panthers also surrendered a late lead in their last outing, losing on a last-second field goal to Troy, 38-37, for their fifth consecutive setback.
FIU leads the all-time series with WKU, 4-3, and it has won three out of four matchups in Miami. The Hilltoppers squeaked by the Panthers in last year's bout, 10-9.
Not only has WKU's offense been productive (31.7 ppg, 412 ypg), it has also been efficient, converting 52 percent of its third-down attempts and scoring touchdowns on 72 percent of its trips to the red zone.
The emergence of perhaps the conference's best running back has been a big reason for the unit's success. With 104 yards against ULM, Antonio Andrews has rushed for 100 yards or more in five straight games, and he has a league-high 759 rushing yards. He is also a threat out of the backfield (21 catches, 257 yards), and he has tallied seven total touchdowns.
While plenty of quarterbacks in the conference have topped Kawaun Jakes' yardage output (198.1 ypg), no one has completed a higher percentage of passes (.701). His 15 touchdown passes are second only the ULM's Kolton Browning, and he has thrown just four interceptions.
The Hilltoppers don't have a go-to receiver, as no player averages more than 50 yards per game, but Jack Doyle (324 yards, three TDs) and Willie McNeal (279 yards, four TDs) have each come up big in crucial moments.
The WKU defense is coming off its worst performance of the season, but it's still the top-ranked unit in the conference both in terms of points allowed (25 ppg), and yards allowed (316.1) per game.
Andrew Jackson (60 tackles, 8.5 TFL, two FF), Jonathan Dowling (30 tackles, five INTs), and Quanterus Smith (9.5 TFL, 6.5 sacks) are all on track to earn All-Sun Belt accolades.
Surprisingly, FIU (26.9 ppg, 392 ypg) has one of the most consistent offenses in the league, scoring 20 points or more in every game this season.
Jake Metlock missed two games with an injury, but when healthy, few Sun Belt quarterbacks have been better. He has thrown for more than 253 ypg game with nine touchdown passes and only one interception. He torched Troy for a season- high three touchdown passes a week ago, and threw for 300-plus yards for the third time this season.
Kedrick Rhodes garners most of the backfield work with 95 carries for 370 yards and two touchdowns, but once the Panthers get into the red zone, it's almost always Darian Mallary (301 yards) who gets the call. He has scored nine rushing touchdowns, which is second-most in the league.
Wayne Times leads the team in receptions (44) and yards (417), but Willis Wright (15 receptions, 346 yards) has broken out recently, recording 100 yards and a touchdown in back-to-back weeks.
The reason FIU has just one win is undoubtedly because of its poor defense, which ranks 106th in the FBS in allowing 37.4 ppg.
Johnathan Cyprien has a team-high 67 tackles and has recorded two of the team's six interceptions. Tourek Williams has done a good job penetrating the line of scrimmage with 10 tackles for loss, 3.5 sacks, and two forced fumbles.
On paper, this seems like a lopsided matchup, but despite its poor record FIU has proven that it has the offense to keep up with any team in the Sun Belt. The Panthers have a great chance of staying in this game. However, the combination of FIU's poor defense and WKU's balanced offense means that the Hilltoppers will ultimately come out on top.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 42, FIU 30
10/24 11:50:52 ET
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