SQ C-USA Championship Preview
Just because the Conference USA title game will likely not have playoff implications, does not mean it is not worth watching. This year’s C-USA title game features a juggernaut Western Kentucky team (11-2, 8-0 C-USA) looking to win its second straight conference title against an upstart Southern Mississippi (9-3, 7-1 C-USA) squad, who can reach double-digit wins for the first time since 1988.
One of the best passing offenses in the country resides in Bowling Green, Kentucky. Head coach Jeff Brohm has continued running the passing scheme brought over by predecessor Bobby Petrino. The Hilltoppers lead the nation in passing touchdowns with 44, and are the only team in the country to have a completion percentage greater than 70%.
WKU's offense is no slouch passing the football either. They rank 4th in the nation in passing yards, and 23rd in passing attempts. However, the Golden Eagles have outgained Western Kentucky in total yards, and rank 6th in the nation with an impressive 7.12 yards per play. After two years of losing records, Todd Monken has led the Golden Eagles to it's first winning season since 2011, led by this prolific offensive attack.
Western Kentucky employs a “Bend don’t break” style of defense, allowing just under 400 yards per game, while still holding them to 25 ppg.
The Golden Eagles defense is more opportunistic, looking to create more big plays. USM has more sacks, tackles for loss, and pass breakups than the Hilltoppers. Southern Miss’s Overall Havoc Rate (which looks at TFL’s and turnovers on a per play basis) is ranked 21st compared to Western Kentucky’s 46th ranking.
34: For all the hype about the Western Kentucky passing attack it is a bit alarming the number of bad pass defenses the Hilltoppers faced this year. Entering Championship Week their opponent with the best ranked pass defense in terms of yards per game is Marshall at 34. Even more alarming is that the Hilltoppers lost to Indiana who has the worst ranked pass defense in the country. Perhaps this makes the WKU passing attack slightly less intimidating.
10-20: Throughout the season Southern Miss had a tendency to win, and lose, big. 10 of Southern Miss’s games have been decided by 20 points or more. That includes a pair of 20-point losses to Mississippi State and later in the season Marshall. So there is a decent chance this championship game will not be decided by a field goal as time expires.
Western Kentucky QB Brandon Doughty
The success of the Hilltopper offense will undoubtedly be tied to the success of the fifth-year senior passer. Doughty will probably fall short of his 2014 yardage totals and touchdown totals, which is understandable considering he threw for over 4,800 yards and 49 touchdowns. In 2015, Doughty’s passer rating and completion percentage are improved and his interception totals are down. He still leads the nation in passing touchdowns and claims a passer rating higher than Heisman contender Baker Mayfield and projected 1st round pick Jared Goff.
Southern Mississippi RB Jalen Richard
When the the Golden Eagles need a score they turn to their star senior tailback. Richard is an adept rusher who not only leads the Golden Eagles in rushing yards and touchdowns, but can also be a factor as a receiver and returner, having recorded touchdowns in both areas.
Southern Miss is certainly capable of creating a big play, but they lack the offensive efficiency of the Hilltoppers. This may very well come down to the defenses, and in this area Western Kentucky may have the advantage. The Hilltoppers seem to be comfortable giving up yardage so long as it does not result in points. They concede five yards to prevent fifteen yards while Southern Miss thrives on the big plays to drive the offense.
Ultimately, Doughty and the rest of the Western Kentucky offense are so good at limiting turnovers that the Southern Miss defense could be in for a long day if they can’t pressure Doughty into mistakes.
Western Kentucky 48, Southern Miss: 38