Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (8-4 SU, 8-4 ATS) vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (9-3 SU, 5-7 ATS)
College Football Week 14
Date/Time: Saturday, December 3, 2016 at 12PM EST
Where: LT Smith Stadium Bowling Green, Kentucky
By Scott, NCAA Football Handicapper, Predictem.com
Point Spread: LT +9.5/WKU -9.5
Over/Under Total: 80.5
The Louisiana Tech Bulldogs meet the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday in the Conference USA Championship Game at LT Smith Stadium. Louisiana Tech is coming off an 8-4 season where they started 1-3. They will take on a Western Kentucky team that also ended the season in strong form with 6 straight wins to get to this spot. The Hilltoppers’ last loss was to this very Louisiana Tech team in a 55-52 shootout. If this game is anything like that one, it should be a good one.
For about a half of the first game this season on October 6 between these two teams, it was a back-and-forth battle. A scoring spurt by the Bulldogs made it 52-31 late in the third quarter. But Louisiana Tech really had to hang on, as Western Kentucky started putting up points in a hurry. A fourth quarter field goal by Louisiana Tech put them ahead at the end of the day by the slimmest of margins. Both offenses had big days, including WKU quarterback Mike White and LA-Tech’s Ryan Higgins, as both had 5 TD throws and no picks with support also coming on the ground. With the stakes high and this one on Western Kentucky’s field, who will get the job done this week?
A 1-3 start for the Bulldogs turned into a big 8-4 season and a division title. They lost to Arkansas and Texas Tech, before losing to Middle Tennessee and then going on a 7-game win streak that ended last week with a road loss to Southern Miss. The name of the game for Louisiana Tech game is a heavy-duty passing-attack. They didn’t end the season on the strongest of notes, but look for the stakes of this game to resonate.
Louisiana Tech has a good quarterback in Higgins, who is at 3706 yards passing with 34 touchdowns and just 7 picks. He has completed passes at a better than 66% rate, while also running in 3 touchdowns with a nimble set of legs. Though the run game is sometimes an afterthought with the aerial game taking such precedence, they have Jarred Craft who is near 1000 yards and Boston Scott, as the pair has combined for 14 touchdowns. They throw the ball so much that the run can take defenses by surprise with a 5.6 run average on the season. The real stars of this offense, however, are Higgins and his electric receiver crew. Trent Taylor has 1462 yards, with Carlos Henderson at 1204 receiving yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. Craft has also been a useful target out of the backfield. They are the 4th-ranked passing offense in the whole country.
Louisiana Tech’s defense is not the best, as they allow over 30 points a game. A lot of that came early in the season, as their defense was somewhat more-effective during their 7-game win streak. They have been robust against the run, albeit in a pass-heavy conference. They have one of more prolific pass-rushers in the nation with Jaylon Ferguson and his 15 sacks. Aaron Brown is also a force on the line. Safety Xavier Woods has gotten 3 sacks, while making plays in the secondary with five picks. So while porous, they have sometimes made worthwhile contributions to the overall team effort this season.
WKU has some similarities, as a lot of C-USA teams do, with the pass-happy offensive approach. At the same time, they’ve been a little stouter on defense overall than Louisiana Tech, allowing just over 22 points a game. They average twice that much with 44 points a game, led by QB Mike White. On the season, White has 3606 yards on 67.3% completions, along with 31 touchdowns and only five interceptions. Their run-game can be effective, led by Anthony Wales, who has 20 rushing touchdowns on 1167 yards, while having made some key catches, as well. RB Quinton Baker has been useful out of the backfield. But like their opponent, the heavy-lifting is done aerially, led by dynamic Taywan Taylor, who has 1392 yards and 14 touchdowns. Also in the mix is Nicholas Norris, who has 1103 yards and 13 receiving touchdowns. This offense has created an awful lot of production this season.
The Hilltoppers’ defense, Like Louisiana Tech, is robust against the run, likely because they play so many aerially-inclined teams and their pass-defense is decidedly less-robust. Still, they have given up just a combined 37 points in their past four games and enter this game in good form. They lack the playmaking component that Louisiana Tech possesses, but they are stouter in an overall sense and have been more solid in conference. At the same time, they did give up 55 points to this very opponent in their first game, so it’s really all relative.
The Western Kentucky defense has been in better form in recent weeks. The Hilltoppers closed the season strongly with six straight wins, the last five of them not being close. On the other hand, Louisiana Tech seemed to sag at the regular season finish line with a 15-point loss to a Southern Miss team that had been getting pounded as of late. Combine that with the fact that this one is on the Hilltoppers’ field, the line is understandable on a lot of levels. That’s if you can get your head around the fact that you’re getting close to double-digits on a team that beat this same opponent this season. I just see things having turned the Hilltoppers’ way in recent weeks and I like them to get the cover and the big win on Saturday.
Scott's Pick to Cover the Point Spread: I’m betting on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers minus 9.5 points.
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