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The Towel Rack

WKU Football: Grading the 20–14 Win over FIU

Well, that’s a lot better. Western Kentucky Football bounced back in fine fashion Saturday, traveling to Miami to beat what should be a good to very good FIU team 20–14.

WKU (1–1, 1–0 C-USA) really dominated most of the game, despite a close scoreline.

How did the team do individually and as a whole?

Let’s break it down, starting with my Keys to Victory from last week…

Honestly, the first few weeks are a complete and utter guess as to what each team may look like, what their style could be, and who the stars are. I was just going off of some stats from Week One and a gut feeling and I missed a little bit here.

Gaej Walker ran for exactly 100 yards this week. 27 carries. Absolute HORSE!!! It was a great job on his part, but WKU didn’t offer much help otherwise, offering up -2 yards in support of Walker. WKU must find someone to help him.

FIU actually had a nice game on the ground, but it was mainly because Western knocked FIU’s Brady of a starting quarterback out, forcing the backup to come in, instantly initiating more of a draw/read-option style of offense. WKU adjusted remarkably well to FIU’s game plan, as well: 10,000 jet sweeps.

That’s a heck of a job adjusting to the feel of the game, Tops. The offensive run game needs work, but again for the style of play the game took on, Western should not be fully dinged for not truly dominating the run.

The only issue I have with this is the lack of great production in the second half. However, they found a way to get it done. Despite FIU really battening down the hatches in the second half, the Tops continued to somewhat move the ball, continued to find ways to win the trenches, and the offensive line was once again the strongest unit on the team.

Fun fact: WKU’s offensive line is on pace to give up six sacks this season. Two years ago, the line gave up 48 sacks in 13 games. Last season, the Tops gave up 32 sacks. I’d say they’re doing a pretty good job.

Again, given the style of the game, the Tops were awesome here. Kyle Fourtenbary was back to his usual productive self. When you consider Joshua Simon went down the first play of the game and Jakairi Moses, the main pass threat out of the backfield was injured, 83 yards receiving in a slog of a game is plenty. Maybe it was a little lofty goal to shoot for 100, but it was clearly a factor in the game. It’s not in the A range because they didn’t achieve the goal. Otherwise, good job.

This was more a hopeful prayer than something I actually thought would for sure happen. However, WKU once again dominated Time of Possession, holding the ball six minutes more than its opponents.

Ultimately, FIU’s possessions were very limited. When you consider WKU was the one committing turnovers, controlling the ball this much in a game that mustered a total of 34 points ended up being one of the main factors in theory.

Heading into the game, I thought WKU had a distinct advantage in Special Teams. This was not the Tops’ best performance. Clayton Bush fumbled. Haggerty missed a punt or two.

In addition, FIU did their part in making this a difficult win for the Tops. FIU’s Heatherly was booming punts, as well, making up for his 39 yards per punt last week. Also, their punt return game was strong, averaging nearly ten yards a return.

That being said, Haggerty still averaged nearly 50 a punt and Corey Munson was brilliant in the kickoff game and nailed two crucial field goals. Those two scores were the difference in the final score.

Again, it didn’t go the way I expected, but WKU probably won all three phases. Offensively, the Tops moved more than FIU, controlled the clock, and scored more. Defensively, WKU only allowed 66 passing yards, keeping FIU under 220 total yards for the entire game. Western was well into the 300s in yards. On special teams, WKU punted for more yardage and made two crucial field goals.

All in all, this was a really good performance by the Tops, getting it done in all three phases.

Position Grades

There is a lot of message board debate about Steven Duncan. First of all, Ty Storey seeing the field at all is a sign of something. However, he saw the field for one play. I’m not sure what that means, but the fact they’re talking about a quarterback battle and the fact that Ty will have a role tells me Steven Duncan has a fairly short leash over time.

Duncan has four turnovers in two games and fumbled in this game, only to get lucky and have it recovered by the offense. This turnover thing is now a real problem. WKU is now -4 in turnover margin through two games. If Duncan could just fix that, he would be the clear starter for the rest of the season from what I have seen and heard.

For the style of game, this was still not too bad. But a pick-6, albeit on an incredible play and an additional hideous decision throwing into solid double coverage mar what otherwise is a quarterback producing for his team. He MUST take care of the football moving forward, or his job will continue to be questioned.

Given injuries, great job, running backs. I’m not sure how many snaps anyone but Gaej Walker played. I know LaFrance lined up in the backfield, but with Moses hurt, 111 total yards (109 from Walker) is awesome and way more than was ever produced the past few years.

Like I said, for WKU receivers to be good as a whole, Lucky Jackson has to perform up to his abilities. Nearly 100 yards gets that done, but this time he didn’t have much help. Pearson and Sloan only combined for 39 yards and a touchdown, and Jernighan still only had one reception. Lucky being good means the Tops aren’t lucky but good in the passing game (if you follow my play on words there).

This isn’t a knock on performance, but Joshua Simon out for what seemed like a concussion really mars this perfect performance from Kyle Fourtenbary. Imagine if both were healthy at the same time, in addition to a really good, silent role player in Steven Witchoskey. What a unit.

Defensive coordinators wouldn’t be able to sleep thinking about two very different tight ends going for at least 50 yards a game. They’re all good enough blockers, as well.

I told y’all before the season and no one listened. This is the best unit on the team and rivals the depth and talent of Jeff Brohms’s offensive lines. No sacks and a 100-yard rusher in this game. One offensive fumble in two games. Not bad.

Let’s not belabor the point here. We’ve talked enough about it, but this was a decent performance against a pretty good defense. The first half was especially impressive, and then both teams survived a really physical slog of the second half. Your running back (with injured backups) got 100 yards, your quarterback and other skill players were decent, and your offensive line was stellar. All in all, mark it as a B.

DeAngelo Malone is looking like a bona fide All-American, and certainly a Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year candidate. He’s already got 17 tackles in two games and 4.5 tackles for loss from the defensive end position. Juwuan Jones is also making his mark with two sacks and 11 total tackles. Add in Jaylon George (forced fumble and TFL vs. FIU) and other defensive linemen who have been in the backfield on multiple occasions, and this unit is doing a heck of a job. Add in two injured quarterbacks and a running back as a result of their work and this group produces massive results once again. I would say the lone negative this week is one sack. I think the defensive tackles need to contribute more, and so do some reserves (Editor’s note: After posting this, I was reminded by a source close to the football team that the defensive tackles had ten tackles, a TFL, and a forced fumble. Maybe I should relax my standards a tiny bit. My bad, fellas. I will stand by one thing and say the Tops could use a couple of sacks from the interior going forward. I think that would be a fair statement.) However, holding someone to less than 220 yards is amazing against anyone, let alone a conference championship contender.

Kyle Bailey (13 tackles) was a monster Saturday. As I said against UCA, with only two linebackers, you need huge production from the ones that play. Regardless of the excuses of injuries and transfers, the Tops need to somehow find a way to be better at linebacker. We had heard Kyle Bailey was looking good. He finally looked good against FIU. With six other tackles from linebackers, that is a decent statistical performance, but they can be better. However, with the awesome performance of the defense as a whole, give them some credit. This is a massive improvement, and if they just do this or better, feel much better about the defense.

First of all, look at the improvement. Second of all, look at the quality of the opponent. Third, just look at how good this performance was overall. 66 yards passing! That’s incredible. Add in several tackles for loss, a forced fumble, the overall defensive performance, and the fact that the secondary had to deal with double-digit jet sweeps (which directly target DB’s), and this was a complete and utter recovery from Week 1. The only blight on their perfect performance was the fact that they are still yet to force a turnover. They must start to force turnovers, or WKU will drown from having to be perfect to win.

Tyson Helton’s offense was a juggernaut in the first half, and then the Tops (along with the whole game) embraced the aforementioned second half sludge fest. Despite the onslaught of doldrums, Helton made good decisions and his offense continued to move the ball, albeit less effectively than at first. Despite a tenuous quarterback situation (multiple interceptions again) and a short bench for the running backs, his offense was effective. His defense was awesome. He found a way to navigate a one-score game for the last 21 minutes of the game. Give him credit. He has not stepped one toe out of line in two games in my opinion. Ding him a little bit for the slowdown in the second half, but the man’s doing a heck of a job.

Clayton White had to deal with a lot on Saturday, and he passed with flying colors. With a near-NFL level quarterback under center, the game plan had to have been to contain the run and deal with the passing game. His defense knocked out the starter, but before he was knocked out, FIU ran jet sweeps galore, something that was unlikely to be anticipated before the game. FIU’s backup was a complete change in style, and the defense proceeded to focus on him and his running ability and held the offense to just over 200 yards and seven points (remember the pick-6), all without his (White’s) guys forcing a single turnover. That’s brilliant work.

This was an awesome performance. Anybody that has something to complain about, just quit it. This was against a team that went 9–4 and blew Western out from the jump last season on Homecoming. The Tops just turned that around and utterly dominated the Golden Panthers. Very few WKU people would have pegged this as a win before the season began, let alone after losing to UCA. The only real concern in terms of possible horrible trends is too many turnovers and not forcing any turnovers defensively through two games. Otherwise, this team is absolutely headed in the right direction.

WKU needs an even better performance Saturday against Louisville at Nissan Stadium in Nashville. Last year’s contest was a tight affair. Both teams are improved. It should be a fun game.

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Matt McCay

L&H agt @safeguardky. Husband to Steph. Daddy to Riley & Hailey. Member @destinychurchbg. @WKUFootball ‘14 #WKU BA ‘14 #WKU MS ‘17 #GOTOPS @TheTowelRackWKU