Analyzing the Enemy: Louisiana Tech Bulldogs (9/16/17)

Hannah Page, Editor
Inside Hilltopper Sports

Day: Saturday, September 16

Time: 6:00PM CST

Location: Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium

Network: WatchStadium

Series Record: Tied 2-2. In their last meeting, WKU defeated LATech in the C-USA Championship game: 58-44.

Betting Line: WKU by 7.0 via ESPN.com (as of 9/15/17)

Position Group Predictions

Quarterback

Mike White vs. J'Mar Smith (through first two games)

Mike White

J'Mar Smith

Pass attempts per game

37.0

29.0

Completions per game

24.0

14.0

Completion %

64.9

48.3

Passing yards per game

251.0

208.0

Average passer rating

123.6

116.5

Yards per pass attempt

6.78

7.17

Passing touchdowns per game

0.5

1.0

Rushing touchdowns per game

0.5

0

Interceptions thrown per game

0.5

0.5

Again, White is the better quarterback. However, a few statistical categories are worth noting in regards to White.

1) White is averaging 60.6 fewer yards per game than that of his 2016 campaign.

2) White is averaging 3.72 fewer yards per pass attempt than than of 2016.

3) White has only scored 1 passing touchdown throughout two games. However, he scored a rushing touchdown against Illinois.

While those numbers might be a little concerning to fans, keep in mind some notable changes since 2016, such as the new system, new receivers, etc. The Hilltoppers are only heading into game three. In a hypothetical situation, if White were to throw 433 yards against LATech, his average would meet that of his 2016 average. White having a 400+ yard game has occurred twice during his career on the Hill. While unlikely he will have a 400+ yard game against LATech, it is not impossible. Likewise, if White averaged 9 or 10 yard per pass attempt against LATech, his overall average would rise between 7.89 - 8.39 yards per pass attempt: again, not impossible.

J'Mar Smith took over as QB1 after star quarterback Ryan Higgins' departure. It certainly does not seem like Smith will be putting up Higgins' numbers any time soon. Against [FCS] Northwestern State, Smith completed 51% of his passes for 276 yards, 7.9 yards per attempt, and 2 touchdowns. Then, against Mississippi State, Smith only completed 43.5% of his passes for 140 yards, 6.1 yards per attempt, and 1 interception.

This will be a tale of whose secondary has a better night, but...

Advantage: WKU

Running backs

WKU vs. LATech Running Backs (through first two games)

WKU

LATech

Rushing attempts per game

28.0

43.5

Rushing yards per game

53.0

186.5

Yards per rush attempt

1.9

4.3

Rushing TDs per game

2.0

2.0

WKU's run game has been flat through two games. Even in terms of gross yardage, the Hilltoppers would only have a total of 168 rushing yards (84 rushing yards per game): still a low average by WKU standards. D'Andre Ferby, Marquez Trigg, and Quinton Baker are talented - no doubt - but something has yet to "click."

-As mentioned in the Illinois recap, WKU "danced around" a little too much and there was not enough downhill running.

-Baker did not play during the EKU game due to suspension. Against Illinois, he only had 5 rushing attempts.

-Despite playing well against EKU, Trigg did not have a single carry at Illinois.

By contrast, LATech boasts 186.5 rushing yards per game. Jarred Craft returns as the star running back; in 2016, Craft ran for 1,074 yards, 5.6 yards per attempt, and 9 touchdowns. In addition, Craft had 42 receptions for 340 receiving yards, averaged 8.1 yards per reception, and 4 touchdowns. Through the first two games of 2017, Craft has averaged 83.5 yards per game, 4.9 yards per carry, and 2 touchdowns. Boston Scott has also made an impact: averaging 75.5 yards per game and 6.9 yards per carry.

WKU's rushing defense should be able to limit the Bulldogs. The Hilltoppers have allowed an average of 109 yards per game while the Bulldogs' rushing defense has allowed 230 rushing yards.

Until a playmaker steps up...

Advantage: LATech

Receivers

WKU Receiving Stats

Player

Rec./Average # Rec. per game

Yards/Yards per game

TDs/Average

Long

Average per rec.

Lucky Jackson

10/5.0

170/85.0

1/0.5

66

17.0

Nacarius Fant

14/7.0

142/71.0

0/0

23

10.1

Quin Jernighan

8/4.0

59/29.5

0/0

16

7.4

Deon Yelder

5/2.5

57/28.5

0

17

11.4

LATech Receiving Stats

Player

Rec./Average #Rec. per game

Yards/Yards per game

TDs/Average

Long

Average yds. per rec.

Marcus Gaines

4/2.0

113/56.5

0/0

58

28.2

Teddy Veal

6/3.0

55/27.5

0/0

15

9.2

Boston Scott

6/3.0

63/31.5

0/0

32

10.5

tables do not reflect entire receiving statistics

WKU has shown spurts of impressive plays from its receiving corps; however, it has not been the "big" receptions, per se, as seen from the past couple of seasons. The vast majority of plays are short, screen passes rather than stretching the field vertically. Historically, the Hilltoppers are more successful at the latter.

Nacarius Fant was the bright and shining spot in the Hilltoppers' disappointing loss to Illinois: accumulating 110 receiving yards from 10 receptions.

In a press conference, Head Coach Mike Sanford alluded to less rotation of players and building momentum from guys who are making and sustaining plays. The Hilltoppers have talent at receiver, but it is clear that they have not settled into a rhythm nor momentum.

LATech's receivers are in a similar boat. None have been able to remain consistent...not even as consistent as WKU's receivers. The Bulldogs will undoubtedly rely on their run game; if they are forced into passing, WKU's impressive defense is likely to get a couple of stops and/or turn over the ball.

I'll give the slight edge to...

Advantage: WKU

Offensive Line

Mike White has not been able to be Mike White with an o-line allowing 5 sacks and 5 quarterback hurries. Despite experience, the o-line has made costly mistakes including an alarming number of penalties. After back-to-back discouraging performances, Sanford has opened up a left tackle competition between Jimmie Sims (starter) and Parker Howell. At the end of the day, if the o-line has issues, they can cause issues for the entire offense.

By comparison, LATech's o-line - although not amazing - has allowed 5 sacks but only 1 quarterback hurry.

The Hilltoppers' o-line has been problematic, so it seems like a tall order for Sanford & Co. to correct every issue in one week...

Advantage: LATech

Secondary



WKU Secondary Stats

Total Tackles (solo/assist)

INT

PD

Devon Key

20 (8/12)

0

0

Joe Brown

12 (8/4)

0

1

Drell Greene

11 (6/5)

0

0

Leverick Johnson

7 (6/1)

0

1

Roger Cray

5 (3/2)

0

2

Antwon Kincade

5 (2/3)

1

0

DeAndre Farris

4 (3/1)

0

1

Juwan Gardner

3 (1/2)

0

1

Marcus Ward

1 (0/1)

0

0

Ta'Corian Darden

1 (1/0)

0

0

Total

69

1

6

LATech Secondary Stats

Total Tackles (solo/assist)

INT

PD 

DaMarion King

11 (7/4)

0

0

Elliot Blankenship

9 (7/2)

0

0

Amik Robertson

7 (6/1)

1

1

Darryl Lewis

6 (4/2)

0

0

Secdrick Cooper

5 (2/3)

0

0

Michael Sam

4 (2/2)

0

0

L'Jarius Sneed

3 (2/1)

0

0

Trey Spencer

3 (2/1)

0

2

James Jackson

3 (2/1)

0

0

Ronald Lewis

3 (1/2)

0

0

Aaron Roberson

3 (2/1)

0

0

Jordan Baldwin

2 (1/1)

0

0

Zach Hannibal

2 (1/1)

0

0

Roland Dunn

1 (0/1)

0

0

Total

62

1

3

...same as last week; I could not fit ever statistical category into the Yahoo Rivals table template, so I stuck to those most applicable to the secondary: tackles, interceptions, pass deflections.

Simply put, WKU is getting more productivity out of 10 than LATech is getting out of 14. Against Illinois, Ta'Corian Darden came up with 1 tackle and 1 interception. That interception led to a Mike White rushing touchdown. Devon Key, also, had a game against Illinois with 12 total tackles and 0.5 tackles for loss.

While WKU's pass defense has allowed more passing yards than LATech, the Bulldogs' previous opponents have only attempted 60 passes. The Hilltoppers' opponents have attempted 73 passes. In addition, WKU allows fewer yards per pass attempt.

WKU's pass defense still needs to aim for more turnover, but there was improvement from week 1 to week 2. It is unclear how LATech will respond to WKU if the Hilltoppers get into a solid passing groove.

Advantage: WKU

Linebackers

WKU Linebacker Stats

Total Tackles (solo/assist)

Sacks

PD

HU

INT

Joel Iyiegbuniwe

21 (10/11)

0

0

0

0

Masai Whyte

13 (7/6)

0

0

0

0

Daeshawn Bertram

7 (0/7)

0

0

0

0

Demetrius Cain

1 (1/0)

0

0

0

0

Der'Quione Mobley

1 (0/1)

0

0

0

0

Total

43

0

0

0

0

LATech Linebacker Stats

Total Tackles (solo/assist)

Sacks

PD

HU

INT

Brandon Durman

12 (5/7)

0

0

0

0

Russell Farris

8 (4/4)

0

0

0

0

Dae'Von Washington

7 (5/2)

0

2

0

2

Randy Hogan

4 (1/3)

0

0

1

0

Collin Scott

2 (0/2)

0

0

0

0

Reggie Cleveland

1 (1/0)

0

0

0

0

Total

34

0

2

1

2

...again, I could not include ever statistical category.

Against Illinois, WKU's linebackers registered 27 tackles. This is a significant increase from the 16 total tackles against EKU. And while LATech has totaled 9 fewer tackles, the Bulldogs have been able to come up with some pass deflections, quarterback hurries, and interceptions.

This is not so much about who was better, but who the respective team was facing.

Iggy and Whyte will continue to lead the Tops. With WKU's o-line in a vulnerable state, LATech's linebackers could exploit WKU's offensive issues.

Advantage: Tie

Defensive Line

Like last week, I will shoot it straight.

WKU's rushing defense has allowed 218 rushing yards, 1 rushing touchdown, and 3.0 yards per rush attempt. LATech's rushing defense has allowed 460 rushing yards, for 4 touchdowns, and 6.3 yards per rush attempt.

The Hilltoppers will have to stop Jarred Craft and Boston Scott, but Chris Johnson (6 total tackles, 1 tackle for loss, 1 sack, and 2 quarterback hurries) & Co. will hold their own. Despite flat performances from WKU's running backs, LATech's defensive line struggles.

Advantage: WKU


What to expect on Saturday

This might not be a pretty game between the two preseason C-USA favorites.

While WKU has struggled offensively, LATech has struggled defensively. While WKU has excelled defensively, LATech has found power in their running game.

In the past, this game is determined by the host team.

2014 (@ LATech): LATech defeated WKU 59-10

2015 (@ WKU): WKU defeated LATech 41-38

2016 (@ LATech): LATech defeated WKU 55-52 (regular season)

2017 (@ WKU): WKU defeated LATech 58-44 (C-USA Championship)

If the Hilltoppers can find any level of consistency and momentum on offense, WKU could easily win. However, if things have not changed, this will be a tight game.

Do I expect WKU to improve? Yes. Will it be perfect? Probably not.

Prediction

1st Half: 17-10

2nd Half: 17-14

WKU wins 34-24


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