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The Towel Rack

WKU Football: MTSU vs. WKU Game Grades

The Hilltoppers found a way to pull off a 41–38 victory in triple overtime against archrival Middle Tennessee. In a bizarre game, WKU led 10–3 entering the fourth quarter, then both teams decided they could finish drives, and a whirlwind of emotion unfolded, with a total of 52 points scored in the fourth quarter or later. WKU happened to come out on top, but this game was anyone’s to win.

There were certainly some interesting scenarios, decisions, and reactions by players and coaches. Let’s break it down…


Defensive Line: D

The defensive line has been a weak spot for WKU and this game was no different. WKU did get some push up front and made the difference on a few plays. However, the defensive line did not actually show up in the stats in the slightest. One tackle for loss, no lineman with more than two tackles, no sacks and one quarterback hit is just awful as a unit.

Linebackers and Defensive Backs: B

Junior Joel Iyiegbuniwe is a legit NFL prospect and he tallied 15 tackles (three for loss), half of a sack and forced a fumble. He and sophomore Ta’Corian Darden (10 tackles) have both finished in double digits in tackles the past few weeks. The Topper defense did surrender well over 400 yards, but the Tops made it difficult in big moments and, ultimately, they found a way at the end of regulation and in the third overtime to gut out a big stop. For a defense with zero help from the defensive line, these two position groups did enough, including allowing three points for the first three quarters.


Mike White: B+

Mike White has fought through so much adversity in 2017: His offensive line is awful, as they surrendered five more sacks in this version of 100 Miles of Hate, but White seems to hold on to the football too long. He’s been sacked nearly 40 times, but eight or nine could have been prevented by throwing the ball out of bounds (ed. note — or stepping up into the pocket and running for a positive gain, however minimal it may seem). I counted two sacks that could have been incompletions against MTSU. White also fumbled twice, one of which was on a lateral.

Obviously, White did an overall fine job despite some miscues, throwing for nearly 500 yards, five touchdowns and completing 72% of his passes all while working with the worst running game in America. He’s positioning himself as a high NFL draft pick come April.

Running Backs: Comparatively (C), Reality (F)

WKU features far and away the worst rushing attack in the NCAA. There is really no way to sugarcoat it, so when a knowledgeable audience feels like the Hilltoppers made some headway on the ground, keep perspective. WKU rushed for 53 yards against MTSU, averaging 1.6 yards per carry. Running backs ran 24 times for 82 yards. A major blight on the running backs would be the lateral to Moses, which was picked up off of the ground and returned for a touchdown.

WKU’s running game was actually able to run it on third and short, compiling six total first downs rushing the football. Therefore, for this unit, this was actually a decent effort.

Wide Receivers and Tight Ends: A+

This was, without question, the best game of 2017 for the WKU passing attack. Six receivers had at least 50 total yards and three had over 100 for the game. Five different receivers had touchdowns and all of this was done with no threat on the ground.

Offensive Line: F



Defensive Coaching: B

No major issues here. Defensive strategy was nothing extraordinary, but nothing stood out as terrible here, either. WKU used some blitzes and mixed up the defense enough to help out a below average defensive line.

Offensive Coaching: C-

WKU’s offense still cannot run the ball effectively. WKU has to keep trying different ways to move the ball on the ground, or they will continue to need 400 yards passing in every ball game. The passing attack was producing all game but in the fourth quarter and overtime, the Toppers took shots down the field and converted on nearly every one.

One huge, blatant issue was the Jakairi Moses lateral fiasco, where Moses actually dropped, then kicked the football and walked away from a live ball. Middle grabbed the ball and ran it back for a touchdown. Not one WKU player was within 10 yards of the ball, and there was seemingly no reaction from the sideline. This is 100% coaching. Players have to be conditioned to play to the whistle. The sideline has to call it out and let the players know it might not be dead.

Never assume a play is over until you hear a whistle. Even if every coach was shouting to go after the ball, the fact no player reacted was an indication this team has not been coached to pounce on every loose ball. See ball, get ball.

Mike Sanford: D+

Sanford is a riverboat gambler. I see nothing wrong, if that’s his style, but he has continually gone for it on fourth down in moments he doesn’t have to. He did it twice this game, and was only successful once. Long snapper Ben Reeder snapped it to Deon Yelder, who gained 14 yards near the middle of the field for a first down. WKU had not faked a punt yet this year. Good call.

The other moment was a fourth and inches inside the MTSU 10 yard line. WKU was up 7–3 in the third quarter. If WKU got the first down, there’s a good chance they ended up kicking the field goal anyway. Instead of WKU simply kicking a field goal to extend the lead, MTSU stopped a quarterback draw and got a huge stop in a game that ended up going to overtime. The points were more crucial than the risk in this case.

There were some other concerning moments in this game, like the most egregious offense, the aforementioned mentioned backwards pass returned for a touchdown.

WKU found a way to win this game, but coaching, especially offensively, was really a detriment to the Toppers’ chances before overtime. However, Sanford found a way to guide his team through a whirlwind fourth quarter, kept them together through the miscues, and ultimately found a way to win in extra time.



The Towel Rack is a place to hang your thoughts when it comes to Western Kentucky sports. Providing fans with a unique view on the Hilltoppers from news, rumors, opinions, previews, game coverage, recaps and more. Welcome to The Towel Rack.

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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