Southern Miss (0-2) at Western Kentucky (2-1)
The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, September 22, 7:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium (30,850) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: Southern Miss 0-1, Western Kentucky 1-0. Away Record: Southern Miss 0-1, Western Kentucky 1-1. Neutral Record: Troy 0-0, North Texas 0-0. Conference Record: Southern Miss 0-1, Western Kentucky 0-0. Series Record: First meeting.
GAME NOTES: After a huge win over an SEC school last week, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will try to capture another non-conference win when they host the Southern Miss Golden Eagles at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
Southern Miss has yet to record a win this season with losses at Nebraska (49-20) and at home against East Carolina (24-14). The loss to the Pirates occurred last weekend and ended a 13-game winning streak for the Eagles in home openers. Southern Miss has now opened the season at 0-2 for the first time since 1998.
In a thrilling overtime matchup, Western Kentucky downed instate foe Kentucky last weekend, marking the Hilltoppers' first win in school history against the Wildcats and first against an SEC opponent. After the Wildcats scored a touchdown on the opening possession of overtime, the Hilltoppers answered with a score of their own and won the game on a successful two-point conversion.
Anthony Alford made his first career start last week at quarterback for Southern Miss. He is the first true freshmen to start a game for the Golden Eagles since 2003. Alford played the entire first half but was pulled in the third quarter after completing 6-of-14 passes for 88 yards and an interception. Alford is a mobile signal caller who gained 74 yards on the ground in the game, but thanks to three sacks and a number of negative run ended with only 13 net yards.
Chris Campbell took over in the third quarter and completed 11-of-21 attempts for 145 yards and a score, meaning Southern Miss may continue to use two quarterbacks this season.
However the situation under center is eventually settled, the offense certainly needs to be more productive. Right now the Golden Eagles are second to last in the conference in yards (292.0) and points (17.0) per game. Struggling to find a quarterback hasn't helped as the team is last in Conference USA in passing yards (308). The squad could also use more from the running game.
The offense was also hurt by turnovers, with Southern Miss coughing up the ball three times in the game including a fumble in the third quarter that was returned for a touchdown.
Through the first two games Southern Miss is surrendering 36.5 points and 430 yards per game, but those numbers are largely skewed by the week one loss to Nebraska. The Golden Eagles looked much better defensively against East Carolina, holding the Pirates to just 228 total yards.
The Golden Eagles were particularly stingy against the run, limiting the Pirates to 1.7 yards per carry, which equated to just 57 yards on 33 carries. The defense also kept the Pirates out of the red zone, with only two defensive series inside its own 25 and also allowed just a 4-for-15 conversion rate on third down.
Alan Howze and Michael Smith each recorded one of the team's two sacks in the game and Martez Thompson and Jamie Collins tied with a team-high seven tackles. Collins had two for loss.
It would have been tough for Western Kentucky to have a more balanced offensive effort in terms of yards gained against Kentucky. The Hilltoppers compiled 163 yards rushing and 160 yards passing. However a glance at the play calls shows that Willie Taggart wants his team to run the ball as much as possible. Of a total 73 plays in the game, Western Kentucky ran the ball 51 times.
That type of effort helped in the red zone, where the Hilltoppers converted four of five trips into touchdowns. The heavy dose of running also gave the Hilltoppers a 13-minute advantage in terms of time of possession.
Antonio Andrews was the workhorse in the backfield, carrying the ball 34 times for 125 yards and three of those scores. Andrew also led the team with 36 yards receiving. For his effort, Andrews was chosen as the Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week.
Also receiving Player of the Week honors were safety Jonathan Dowling (defensive) and punter Hendrix Brakefield (special teams). Dowling snagged three interceptions in the game. Brakefield averaged 40.2 yards per punt, including a season-high 51-yarder and also had a kick land inside the 20 in the fourth quarter.
With Dowling making plays on the ball, some of the mistakes of the Western Kentucky defense were covered up. The Hilltoppers still surrendered 373 yards in the game, mostly through the air. The Wildcats had 332 yards passing on 61 pass attempts.
Western Kentucky did do a solid job against the run, surrendering only 41 yards on the ground. Xavius Boyd led the team with 10 tackles in the contest, while Bar'ee Boyd had the team's only sack.
All the momentum in this game will be on Western Kentucky's side with the team coming off a historic victory. That won't be all the Hilltoppers have going for them with a more reliable offense than Southern Miss, which is still trying to find an identity and stability at quarterback.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 24, Southern Miss 19
09/19 10:43:38 ET