The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (8-2, 6-0) will travel to face the Florida International Golden Panthers (5-6, 3-4) in a Conference USA East Division matchup Saturday afternoon. Florida International has won four of the six previous meetings though Western Kentucky has won the last two; that includes a 14-6 win as a 5.5 point favorite on the road on October 27, 2012 in the most recent matchup.
Western Kentucky won their second straight with a 35-19 win over Florida Atlantic two weeks ago; they are coming off a bye last week. Florida International was obliterated 52-0 on the road by Marshall last week for their second loss in three games. The kickoff from FIU Stadium in Miami, Florida is scheduled for 2:30 pm ET and the game will not be televised nationally. Western Kentucky is currently a 16.5 point favorite with the over/under set at 66 points in this contest.
Western Kentucky held just a 14-13 edge at the half against Florida Atlantic but outscored the Owls 21-6 after intermission. The Hilltoppers outgained the Owls 514-389, won the first down battle 25-24 and were edged 31:40 to 28:20 in the time of possession battle. Western Kentucky committed the lone turnover of the game but they had more than enough offense to overcome that issue. Brandon Doughty threw for four touchdown passes and caught the other touchdown for the Hilltoppers in the win.
The Hilltoppers boast the 6th most prolific passing offense in the country as they average 374.6 yards per game through the air, more than offsetting the fact that they are 94th in rushing offense with 146.7 yards per game; those numbers help contribute to Western Kentucky scoring 40.8 points a game, tied for 11th in the nation while they rank tied for 63rd in the nation in scoring defense by allowing 26.5 points per contest. Brandon Doughty has been dominant under center, completing 72.7 percent of his throws (279 of 384) for 3,590 yards, 34 TD and 6 INT while averaging 9.35 yards per pass attempt. That helps make up for a run game that struggled early on but now averages 4.6 yards per carry: D’Andre Ferby is second on the team with 110 carries for 473 yards and six scores while Anthony Wales has 89 carries for 692 yards plus six scores. That duo has to produce with Leon Allen (27 carries, 137 yards, 2 TD) done for the year. Five players have hauled in at least 31 passes for the Hilltoppers: Taywan Taylor leads the team with 65 receptions for 1,051 yards and 13 scores. Jared Dangerfield (60 catches, 620 yards, 7 TD), Tyler Higbee (31 grabs, 463 yards, 6 TD), Nicholas Norris (42 receptions, 679 yards, 2 TD) and Antwane Grant (36 catches, 433 yards, 4 TD) are part of a plethora of riches at the skill positions. Garrett Schwettman has hit 53 of 54 extra points and 11 of 12 field goal attempts with a long of 46 yards.
Florida International was no match for Marshall in this contest as they failed to put up any points on the board; they were down 21-0 after one quarter and 38-0 at the half. The Golden Panthers were outgained 463-209 and lost the first down battle 25-13. Florida International forced two turnovers while committing only one in the game; the Golden Panthers held a 30:20 to 29:40 edge in time of possession. The Golden Panthers also allowed a punt return for a score in the blowout loss.
The Golden Panthers are averaging 250.8 yards (41st in the nation) per game through the air and 113.3 yards (120th in the nation) per contest on the ground this season. Florida International scores 27.2 points a game, which is tied for 61st in scoring offense, and is 66th in scoring defense as they allow 26.8 points per contest; five of their six losses have been by double figures. The Golden Panthers have thrown 407 passes while running the ball 356 times; Alex McGough is 252 of 390 for 2,627 yards with 21 touchdowns and six interceptions on the season while ranking fourth on the team with 92 rushing yards plus three scores. Trey Anderson has completed 5 of 17 passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in his limited workload. Alex Gardner leads the team with 177 carries for 712 yards plus eight scores; he’s currently holding the team lead with 50 grabs for 401 yards plus a score. Anthony Jones (43 carries, 233 yards, 2 TD) and Anthon Samuel (31 carries, 104 yards, TD) are secondary options in the ground game. Thomas Owens is tied for the team lead in receptions as he has 49 receptions for 620 yards and eight scores; Jonnu Smith (36 receptions, 397 yards, 4 TD), Clinton Taylor (35 grabs, 374 yards, 3 TD) and Ya’Keem Griner (21 receptions, 225 yards, 2 TD) are solid targets as well. Austin Taylor is 31 of 35 on extra points and 10 of 13 on field goal attempts this season with a long of 47 yards.
Western Kentucky is 13-3 ATS in their last 16 after allowing less than 20 points, 3-1-1 ATS in their last five after an ATS loss, 5-2-1 ATS in their last eight conference games and 5-2-1 ATS in their last eight against teams with a losing record. Florida International is 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 after allowing more than 200 yards on the ground, 3-9 ATS in their last 12 after allowing at least 40 points and 1-4 ATS in their last five against teams with a winning record.
The Golden Panthers were torched last week by Marshall and now will have to deal with the other top team in the East Division of Conference USA. Western Kentucky is an explosive offense with plenty of weapons to work with; Doughty is arguably the best quarterback in the nation that most people haven’t heard of at this point. I expect Western Kentucky to win this one convincingly to keep their spot at the top of the division.