Emotions are riding high for the Owls after their Week 10 Shula Bowl win over division-leading FIU. But they can’t afford to let the excitement from this past Saturday overshadow the Western Kentucky team on the docket for this one.
The Hilltoppers are having a season to forget, sitting winless through five conference games and 1-8 overall.
Most of their struggles have been injury related, as they’ve shuffled through three different quarterbacks this year with starter Drew Eckels missing time with shoulder ailments.
It’s unknown if Eckels will play this Saturday after he dislocated his throwing shoulder on a pump fake last week against Middle Tennessee.
Last year FAU played a thriller up in Bowling Green, rallying from down eight in the fourth quarter to score 22 unanswered in a 42-28 win. Running back Devin Singletary racked up 244 rushing yards and four touchdowns in the victorious effort.
With the Owls’ running game and defense, having looked the form of the 2017 squad against FIU, should control this game against an inferior opponent from start to finish.
THE FILE: FAU (4-5, 2-3) WESTERN KENTUCKY (1-8, 0-5)
The Hilltoppers’ offense has been anemic this season, scoring 18.7 points per game – sixth worst nationally. Eckels’ backups have been spotty at best, Davis Shanley and Steven Duncan combining to throw six interceptions to only eight touchdowns on the year. The running game hasn’t been much better. Western Kentucky is averaging 3.6 yards per carry as a team, scoring nine rushing touchdowns in as many games – 12th in C-USA. Sustaining drives has been a struggle for the Hilltoppers. They are last among C-USA teams in time of possession (28.07), which wears out their defense late in games.
Offensive Players to Watch:
11 Lucky Jackson, R-Jr, WR: Jackson possesses the next-level speed to take the top off of any defense, but inconsistent quarterback play has kept him from doing so on a consistent basis. He leads Western Kentucky with 39 receptions, and is second in yards (462) and touchdowns (three).
25 Joshua Samuel, R-Fr, RB: After carrying the ball only six times through the first two weeks of the season, Samuel has emerged as an integral piece of the Western Kentucky backfield. He’s the 1A to Gino Appleberry’s 1B in the Hilltoppers’ rushing attack, pacing the team with 429 yards and adding a touchdown.
10 Steven Duncan, R-So, QB: Duncan stepped in for an injured Eckels this past Saturday and, after delivering a 46-yard touchdown on his first play, he fell back to earth quickly. He completed 2-of-13 passes for 15 yards and an interception after the initial big play. Duncan exited last week’s contest with a minor injury of his own, but should be considered the tentative starter against FAU this Saturday.
It’s been a tough year for the Hilltoppers defensively, as their offense’s struggles forced them to be on the field for entirely too long in most games. Western Kentucky is giving up 412.3 yards and 29.9 points per game. Owning the conference’s fourth-worst rushing defense, the Hilltoppers have ceded 183.1 yards on the ground on average. Despite playing from behind for most of the season the Hilltoppers have rushed the passer well, notching 16 sacks through nine games. They’ve struggled to win the turnover battle, however, picking off only five passes on the year – 12th in C-USA.
Defensive Players to Watch:
15 Ta’Corian Darden, R-Jr, DB: A true do-it-all defensive back, Darden has been a dominant presence in both run and pass defense this season. Tied for second on the team with 58 tackles, Darden also has three tackles for loss and a team-high nine pass breakups. He has an interception and forced fumble to his name as well.
44 Ben Holt, R-Jr, LB: The former walk-on tied a program-record with his 19 tackles against FIU in Week Nine and that performance was far from an aberration. Holt’s 88 stops on the year ranks third in C-USA and is tops on his team, seven and a half of those tackles accounting for a loss. The sub-six-foot linebacker is a factor in the pass game as well, contributing four pass breakups, six quarterback hits and a sack-and-a-half this year.
25 Masai Whyte, R-Sr, LB: A versatile cog of the Western Kentucky front seven, Whyte has been the perfect running mate for Holt this season. His 56 tackles rank fourth on the team. Three of those tackles were sacks, and Whyte also picked off a pass.