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The Sports Network
DATE & TIME: Saturday, October 20, 4:00 p.m. (et)
FACTS & STATS: Site: L.T. Smith Stadium (22,000) -- Bowling Green, Kentucky. Television: ESPN3.com. Home Record: ULM 1-1, WKU 2-0. Away Record: ULM 3-1, WKU 3-1. Neutral Record: ULM 0-0, WKU 0-0. Conference Record: ULM 2-0, WKU 2-0. Series Record: Western Kentucky leads, 4-3.
GAME NOTES: Two teams tied atop the Sun Belt Conference standings attempt to separate themselves from the pack on Saturday afternoon, as the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers play host to the ULM Warhawks.
Since losing back-to-back nail-biters to Auburn (31-28 in OT) and Baylor (47-42), ULM has won three straight to move to 4-2 overall. After a convincing 35-14 win over Florida Atlantic last week, the Warhawks are 2-0 in the conference for the first time since 2009.
Western Kentucky is one of the few mid-major teams that has actually played better than ULM. It has won five of six games to start the season, including four straight, with its only loss coming against top-ranked Alabama (35-0). In fact, the only other setback the Hilltoppers have suffered in the last 14 games was against another SEC power in LSU (Nov. 12, 2011), which was also ranked No. 1 at the time.
The Hilltoppers have a 4-3 advantage in the all-time series with ULM and have won two of the three previous meetings in Bowling Green. WKU won last year's matchup in Monroe, 31-28, in overtime.
ULM owns the most explosive offense in the Sun Belt, ranking first in the league in both points (38.8) and yards per game (485.7 ypg). It has also converted 50 percent of its third downs and an incredible 78 percent of its fourth-down tries (14-of-18).
Kolton Browning is coming off one of his most pedestrian passing performances of the year against FAU (10-of-23, 147 yards), but he still threw a pair of touchdowns and ran for 59 yards. Browning has been one of the best players in the conference, throwing for 1,606 yards, rushing for 292 yards, and accounting for 17 touchdowns while throwing just three interceptions.
Jyruss Edwards is the team's leading rusher with 404 yards and he has also punched the ball into the end zone six times, but last week it was Monterrell Washington (45 yards, two TDs) who stole the show on just four carries.
Brent Leonard (405 yards) has a team-high 40 receptions and three touchdowns. Je'Ron Hamm (415 yards, two TDs) has more yards than Leonard on just 23 receptions.
With an offense so prolific, the defense (25 ppg, 351.5 ypg) oftentimes gets caught up in shootouts. Last week the unit was impressive (14 points, 307 yards), albeit against a lackluster FAU offense.
R.J. Young has made plays all over the field with 42 tackles, five tackles for loss, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. As a team the Warhawks have nine picks, with DaCorris Ford logging a pair.
The WKU offense (30 ppg) is one of the most balanced in the SBC, averaging nearly as many rushing yards (196.2) as passing yards (209.7).
Running back Antonio Andrews is the catalyst, as he has rushed for 100 yards or more in four straight games and leads the league 655 yards on 117 carries. Andrews also has 20 receptions for 249 yards and has scored six total touchdowns.
Although he hasn't been as dynamic as his counterpart in this bout (Browning), quarterback Kawaun Jakes has been efficient in his own right, completing 68.2 percent of his passes for 1,079 yards with 12 touchdowns (one rushing) against only three interceptions.
Jack Doyle (27 receptions, 242 yards, TD) is the team's leading receiver, but Jakes spreads it out to several targets. Willie McNeal (159 yards), Kadeem Jones (126 yards), and Mitchell Henry (122 yards) have all caught three touchdown passes.
WKU's defense (22 ppg, 304.7 ypg) has been especially impressive in the second half of late, allowing a total of nine points after halftime over its past two games.
Jonathan Dowling has shined in the secondary with four interceptions, 27 tackles, and a blocked kick. Andrew Jackson has 50 stops and 7.5 tackles for loss, and Quanterus Smith can make plays in the backfield with the best in the country with 9.5 tackles for loss and 6.5 sacks.
In a statement matchup, both squads are bound to bring their A-game, as a win in this bout is likely to be crucial in winning the Sun Belt championship. With Browning on its side, ULM has the ability to strike at any moment, but with a fantastic rushing attack, a stronger defense, and a rowdy home crowd, the Hilltoppers will be able to control the clock to help keep the Warhawks offense sidelined.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Western Kentucky 28, ULM 27
10/17 10:43:49 ET
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