WKU Football: Tops Survive 35–31 Thriller Against ODU; Move to 5–2
On a short week visit to a reeling and motivated Old Dominion squad, the Tops continued their recent offensive resurgence and survived an upset bid to win a 35–31 nail biter against Old Dominion (2–5, 0–3) moving to 5–2 on Mike Sanford’s debut campaign.
WKU (5–2, 3–1) continued to take a huge step forward on offense, racking up 416 yards of offense including five touchdown passes by Mike White. They proved last week’s strong showing against Charlotte wasn’t an aberration but the defense took a big step backwards by letting a previously mediocre ODU offense out-gain them and control the game.
WKU repeatedly crossed the 50 yard line in the first half, capping off drives with Mike White connecting on touchdown passes of 44, four and 13 yards to put WKU up 21–14 at the half despite Old Dominion running all over WKU’s previously strong defense. WKU could have easily been up more but turnovers and missed fourth down conversions kept Old Dominion in the game.
The third quarter was a different story all together. ODU opened up the half with a 10 play, 61 yard drive that was finished off with Ray Lawry’s 14 yard touchdown run. After a Quinton Baker fumble set up a ODU field goal giving them a 24–21 lead, WKU’s defense continued their less than stellar performance giving up another long touchdown run (46 yards) to Lawry to dig a 31–21 hole. Overall WKU had a miserable third quarter.
In the fourth quarter, WKU resumed their exciting offensive ways with Mike White connecting with Nacarius Fant to cut ODU’s lead to three points with 9:03 remaining.
The Tops defense then came up with a crucial interception to set up a 30 yard touchdown pass from White to Quinn Jernighan putting the Tops ahead for good at 35–31.
An ODU fourth-down fumble at the WKU 26 allowed the Tops to run the clock down and ODU’s hail mary was intercepted by Laverick Johnson to help WKU escape Norfolk with a closer than expected win.
Overall, any time you can beat a motivated team playing for their season, you can’t be too disappointed, even if it wasn’t pretty. Old Dominion is clearly a better team with Ray Lawry healthy despite their now 2–5 record. The most encouraging aspect of this game was the continued reawakening of the Hilltopper offense. Mike White looked like his old self once again putting up huge numbers for the second consecutive week.
With injuries to Joe Brown and Evan Sayner, WKU’s defense finally regressed and succumbed to weaknesses they’ve shown all season (no pass rush and average run defense). Old Dominion cranked out 268 yards on the ground and that lack of a pass rush allowed 17-year-old Stevie Williams to maintain drives with his arm and legs. Luckily, Clayton White’s defense caused three turnovers and came up with stops when they needed to allowing WKU’s offense to outscore the Monarchs.
Overall, you can’t help but be pleased by the offensive growth since UTEP. Putting up 42 and 35 points is way more encouraging than the 15 they put up against the Miners.
With a tough three game stretch of FAU, Vanderbilt and Marshall upcoming, the Tops will need all the firepower they can get to repeat as conference champs. Overall, we can all take a deep breath and be happy that the Tops are now on a four game winning streak with all of their preseason goals still on the table. The showdown against Lane Kiffin’s Owls should show if WKU is a conference contender or just a mere bowl contender.
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