WKU Football: Grading WKU’s 35–31 Win Over Old Dominion

WKU traveled to a reeling ODU on Friday and escaped with a thrilling 35–31 victory. Let’s analyze what went right (and wrong) during the Tops’ fifth victory of the season.

Mike White: A

For the second week in a row Mike White looked like his 2016 self again. He completed 24 of his 34 pass attempts for 304 yards and five touchdowns to five different receivers. Against a team with a vicious pass rush, White regularly stepped up in the pocket and delivered the downfield passes that had been missing in the early season games. You can tell he’s regained his confidence and the rest of the passing offense has elevated its play with his return to form. With White once again playing at an all-conference level, WKU can now win multiple ways and the preseason goals are back on the table.

Offensive Game Plan: B

Mike Sanford’s offense once again put up numbers that fans have become accustomed to over the past four years. During the first half, the offense regularly crossed into the ODU side of the field, mixing short and deep passes with a few solid run plays to keep the Monarchs in their heels. We even saw a trick play for the second consecutive game.

Without a few mistakes and a missed fourth down conversion, WKU easily could have scored a couple more times in the half.

WKU continued their poor third quarter ways with Quinton Baker’s fumble and sacks contributing to a simply dreadful 15 minutes, but the passing execution returned in the fourth with the go-ahead score in the form of a 30-yard bomb from White to Quin Jernighan. The return of a consistent passing offense gives WKU some margin for error moving forward.

Offensive Line: C

There has been some improvement in the offensive line lately, especially with the emergence of Miles Pate at the guard position and that improvement has given Mike White time in early downs to throw the ball and find receivers. Unfortunately, when defenses know the pass is coming, the tackles still struggle with false starts and edge rushers. The Tops gave up three sacks and White was hurried five times.

The running game was once again a mixed bag as well. The line did open up some large holes paving the way for runs of 17, 11 and eight yards by Baker, D’Andre Ferby and Drew Eckles, respectedly, but overall the numbers weren’t good, only combining for 73 yards on 33 carries (with sack yardage included). The staff is doing a better job of not forcing the run, but you’d still like to see the line establish it to being a new dimension to the offense.

The staff has done a better job putting the line in a position to be successful and the line play has elevated from dreadful to serviceable which should be enough in most games.

Rushing Defense: D-

WKU’s defense has been solid all season, but there had been signs of weakness and one of those problem areas has been the rushing defense. That weakness reared its ugly head on Friday as the Tops gave up yards 268 yards and all four of Old Dominion’s touchdowns on the ground. Ray Lawry is a great running back, but it was painful to see the defense repeatedly allow long runs without offering any resistance once he hit the second level. Some of the running problems can be attested to a now-thin defensive line due to injuries, but that doesn’t mean the defense can’t do a better job of swarming to the ball. If that aspect doesn’t improve the Tops could be in for long days against FAU and Vanderbilt’s run-heavy offenses.

Overall Defense: C-

The numbers weren’t pretty for WKU defensively, especially considering ODU’s struggles on the season. Playing without Joe Brown and Evan Sayner, the Tops looked every-bit short handed, giving up 448 yards and letting Old Dominion dictate the pace on the field. The bend-don’t-break tendencies finally came to burn WKU as they repeatedly couldn’t get off the field and let ODU pick up short yard conversions via the run and pass.

The defense did, however, find ways to make a few stops and used Steven Williams’ inexperience against him and created four turnovers. The signs of regression have been subtle all season. Against better offenses, they’ll have to get better pressure on quarterbacks and need to tighten up against the run. But the defense did just enough yesterday to let the offense carry the team to victory. After carrying the team early in the season that’s more than acceptable.

Overall Grade: C+

Despite their record, Old Dominion was definitely a step-up in competition from UTEP and Charlotte. They were motivated to not let their season slip away and returned several injured players that made an impact yesterday. Overcoming a 10-point deficit and escaping a tough road environment with a win showed this teams resilience. The continued ascent of WKU’s offense showed this team can win with offense that will serve them well against more talent offensive teams moving forward. The defensive effort was a little tough to watch but if they can make just a few more stops they’ll be ok. The Tops now are riding a four game winning streak and momentum is a powerful thing, I think everyone feels better about this close road win than they did just two weeks ago against UTEP.

What say you? What would you grade yesterday’s performance in terms of individuals or overall? Were we too harsh on anyone? Let us know in a comment below, via Twitter at @TheTowelRackWKU or on our Facebook page.

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