By Craig Fields
Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Saturday – December 5 – 11:00 am CT
L.T. Smith Stadium – Bowling Green, Kentucky
For the Conference USA title game, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0 C-USA) will be facing the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles (9-3, 7-1 C-USA). Both teams have really displayed their ability to score in bunches and play defense at a high level at different key points in a game.
WKU is led by their highly talented quarterback Brandon Doughty who can make all of the throws and rarely makes mistakes. On the season he completed 73% of his passes for 4,184 yards, 42 touchdowns, and six interceptions. He is also a finalist for the Manning award this year.
He had the best completion percentage in college football and the second best passer rating. He is the type of quarterback that, if you are an NFL scout, you wish he had played against better competition in order to truly gauge his talent level. There is no doubt that he is talented but against the Big-12, SEC and ACC type competition, would he have had those types of numbers? Probably not.
On the Golden Eagles squad, they also have a quarterback that is very reliable and able to make all of the throws as well. He completed 64% of his passes for 3,964 yards 35 touchdowns, and nine interceptions.
He makes good decisions with the football and would rather take a sack than give the ball away with an unnecessary turnover. He spreads the ball around to all of his weapons effectively and makes it hard to key in on one receiver.
Both of these quarterbacks are pocket passers and do not really scramble or escape the pocket particularly well. They excel on getting the ball out on time and on target, going through their progressions, and finding the best receiver to throw the ball to.
This game will come down to the play of both of these players. These defenses are fairly similar in the points they give up as well as the yards they give up. However, the game will be won by the quarterback who is able to make the most plays and take the least amount of sacks.
The Golden Eagles also have a two-headed monster in their backfield. Running backs Jalen Richard and Ito Smith have combined for over 2,000 rushing yards and 20 touchdowns on the season. They are the reason why Mullens can be so effective.
They take the pressure off of the passing game by being able to consistently rush for positive yardage being able to keep the Golden Eagles ahead of schedule; 2nd and 5 and 3rd and 3 etc.
The Golden Eagles rarely have to worry about 2nd and long situations when they hand the ball off to either of these backs.
On the other side of that coin, the Hilltoppers will trot out junior running back Anthony Wales who has a 7.2 rush per carry average and almost 1,000 yards on the season. Wales missed the first four games of the season due to an injury, otherwise he might be talked about as one of the best running backs in college football.
Over his last seven games he has eclipsed the 100-yard mark six times and the 130-yard mark four times. He is shifty, pretty low to the ground at 5-10 and powerful. He finishes off his runs and rarely falls backwards for losses.
Because this game is so close to call, I have to go with the team that has the better quarterback. WKU gets the nod and comes away with the victory in this one.
Prediction: WKU 38 – Southern Miss 31