MinerRush: What have been some of the positive identities WKU has consistently shown this year?
Wally Hughes: Prior to the meltdown last weekend against Louisiana Tech, WKU has displayed a high-powered offense, led by both an incredibly efficient passing attack and committing few turnovers. Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty had only thrown four interceptions on the season prior to the matchup against the Bulldogs, which is amazing when you look at the number of passes he's thrown and the yardage he has compiled so far this season. He threw four picks against Louisiana Tech, but hopefully that was an anomaly, and the passing offense will return to form on Saturday against UTEP.
MR: Is WKU a true spread team in terms of scheme, or will the UTEP defense see multiple looks based off some run plays?
WH: WKU's biggest downfall is its marriage to the passing game. The Hilltoppers feature two solid backs in Leon Allen and Ace Wales, but refuses to give them the ball sometimes when they should. WKU has been most successful on offense this season when they incorporate the running game to go along with its potent passing attack, but unfortunately that hasn't happened much.
WKU also is very deep at the tight end position, and will use multiple sets in its scheme. Senior tight end Mitchell Henry is Doughty's favorite target, so UTEP will have to key in on him, especially in short yardage situations.
MR: WKU has allowed very few sacks this season in so many Brandon Doughty drop backs, where is the weakness WKU has along the offensive line?
WH: WKU's offensive line is the strength of its offense. They are a veteran group that commits few mistakes. However, starting center Max Haplin underwent season-ending back surgery prior to the Louisiana Tech game, and Doughty will have to build new chemistry and rhythm with whoever replaces him. As a Hilltopper fan, that worries me because replacing a center in mid-season usually results in communication issues and a few mistakes.
MR: Did the personnel changes WKU went about with on defense prior to the LA Tech game hurt the defensive cause even worse than it was? And do you see any hope in improvement over the last three games?
WH: The personnel changes were made out of necessity due to some injuries on the defensive side of the ball, as well as to create depth moving forward. However, any time you have a freshman running back playing cornerback, it's not a good thing. With that being said, the defense actually did a decent job the first half, giving the offense plenty of opportunities to get back in the game.
The trend so far this year has been the defense playing decent in the first half, and then totally collapsing in the second. They can't stop the run, and are prone to giving up big plays. After eight games with no improvements, I don't see that changing. WKU will continue to rely on the offense to win games, and if the offense sputters you might as well go ahead and call it a loss for the Hilltoppers.
UTEP Wins if.....
WH: They contain WKU's passing offense. That's easier said than done. Louisiana Tech has been the only team to shut it down, and they did so by mixing different blitzes to get pressure on Doughty. Doughty isn't a mobile quarterback, so if UTEP can force him out of the pocket he is likely to make a few mistakes.
WKU Wins if......
WH: The defense puts together an entire effort, and the top-five offense shows up to play. If the defense can manage the game, the offense can win it for them.
Prediction: WKU 45, UTEP 31
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