Low-Scoring Affair Likely in '100 Miles of Hate' Rivalry Game

wke middle tennessee

Rainman M.

Tuesday, November 14, 2017 4:14 PM GMT

Tuesday, Nov. 14, 2017 4:14 PM GMT

Western Kentucky (5-5) hosts Middle Tennessee (5-5) Friday at 8 PM ET in the 103rd "100 Miles of Hate" rivalry game. The visitors are favored by a field goal with a total of 53.5.

Free NCAAF Pick: 'Under' 53.5Best Line Offered: Heritage

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Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky

'Over' backers will point to the fact that the last 5 meetings between these two teams went 'over' the total. But the playmakers missing from this year's game had produced 8 of the touchdowns scored in last year's shootout. NCAAF oddsmakers are struggling to account for the losses, especially of MTSU's offensive play-makers: MTSU's over/under is 2-8 this season.

I'Tavius Mathers is gone: Mathers ran for 1500+ yards and 6.7 yards per carry and produced almost 200 yards of offense against WKU last season. Replacing him is a former linebacker Tavares Thomas who last played running back in high school. He adds a component of power to freshman Brad Anderson's quickness. Neither back has achieved a run of more than 37 yards.

Quarterback Brent Stockstill's short, conservative passing game predominates MTSU's offensive game-plan. His top receiver, Richie James, is out for the season. James had accrued 200+ receiving yards and 2 touchdowns against WKU. James' absence makes it harder for Stockstill to locate a wide receiver who is able to quickly separate himself from the defensive back. Stockstill's yards per pass attempt, without James, has sunk from 7.8 last season to 6.9.

Western Kentucky's shift to a 4-2-5 defense makes it match up well against the intermediate passing attack due to the increased number of defensive backs on the field. In terms of average opposing passer rating, the Hilltoppers have improved from 62nd last season to 12th. The best antidote to a 4-2-5 defense is a power running game. So expect MTSU, which ranks 109th in run play percentage, to be uncomfortable on offense.

The Raiders won't have any trouble keeping WKU one-dimensional on offense. The Hilltoppers rank last with 2.2 yards per carry, .8 fewer than the next-best team, partly due to the injury of top running back Quinton Baker and the departure of 3 all-conference blockers.

Quarterback Mike White leads WKU's offensive production. But the key to White's success is his pass protection. White -- and by extension WKY's offense -- has consistently underperformed against defenses that excel at penetrating into the backfield. As a touchdown favorite against Illinois, WKU produced only 7 points, White only 238 yards, while Illinois achieved 2 sacks, 5 tackles for loss and 4 quarterback hurries. As a 16.5-point favorite at winless UTEP, WKU only scored 15 points, while UTEP managed 2 sacks, 2 QB hurries and 8 tackles for loss.

Under new defensive coordinator Scott Schafer, MTSU has improved in sack percentage from 101st to 56th this year. Schafer utilizes an aggressive scheme with various blitzes. White, behind an offensive line ranked 80th in sack percentage allowed, will face a lot of pressure, because MTSU does not need to worry much about WKU's run attack.

 

The Verdict

I expect few points from MTSU's conservative offensive attack. Meanwhile, White will struggle to drive WKU's one-dimensional offense due to MTSU's pressure and sturdy secondary. Defense will rule this year's rivalry game.

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