Western Kentucky lost a game they should have won last night, a 50-47 triple overtime loss to Middle Tennessee.
How did the Blue Raiders come out on top? After a heartbreaking 1-2 start to the season, where do the Toppers go from here? Read below for more.
Important note: Because of the college football overtime format, I’m only counting stats up to the end of regulation last night.
• WKU yards per play: 7.2
• WKU yards per rush: 3.9
• WKU yards per pass attempt: 9.2
• MTSU yards per play: 6.3
• MTSU yards per rush: 5.9
• MTSU yards per pass attempt: 7.0
Teams who outgain their opponents by 0.75 yards per play win 75 percent of the time, according to SBNation's Bill Connelly. WKU outgained MTSU by a larger margin, 0.9.
Five Topper receivers caught passes of 26 yards or longer, compared to only one for the Blue Raiders.
But for the first time this season, we see a difference in the winner of points per play vs. yards per play.
WKU scored 34 points on 93 plays—A 0.37 points per play average.
MTSU scored 34 points on 78 plays—A 0.44 points per play average.
Advantage--WKU. The Toppers unit was clearly more explosive by yardage, but that didn’t result in expected points. We’ll get to that.
• Overall Success Rate: WKU 58 percent, MTSU 49.
• First Down: MTSU 53 percent, WKU 46.
• Second Down: WKU 72 percent, MTSU 49.
• Third Down: WKU 63 percent, MTSU 40.
Like explosiveness, the Toppers were clearly better here. The Blue Raiders were slightly better on first down, but WKU was much better on second--and most importantly, third.
Advantage--WKU. Teams who were 10-20 percent more successful than their opponents won 91.5 percent of the matchups in 2013, again according to Connelly. WKU just missed that cutoff with a +9 percent margin.
So WKU was both more explosive AND more efficient than MTSU. How in the world did they lose?
Other Factors: Finishing Drives, Field Position, and Turnovers. MTSU won 2 of 3, with field position being a tossup.
1) Holding a 24-17 lead, WKU started a drive from their own 26 with 1:58 left in the first half. Hopefully here, your worst outcome is burning enough clock that even if you have to punt, the other team has a combination of poor field position and very little time remaining, so you lead going into the half.
But on second-and-10, Doughty throws his only interception of the game, picked off by MTSU at their own 46 with 1:40 on the clock.
The Blue Raiders not only earn the turnover, but take the gifted field position and finish the drive, gaining 54 yards in 7 plays to punch in an 11-yard touchdown run with 13 seconds left.
2) MTSU received to open the second half, driving inside the WKU 40. But the Topper defense comes up big (with the help of a holding penalty,) knocking the Blue Raiders out of field goal position. MTSU does get off a successful punt, pinning WKU inside their own 11.
This was a crucial spot in the game. The only thing stopping MTSU from finishing their drives so far in the game was a holding penalty on a third down. Now WKU has the ball at their own 11, the last thing you want to do is give MTSU good field position again. WKU had to get at least a couple first downs here, take some pressure off the defense.
They did better than that. The Toppers drove all the way down to the MTSU 5, where they thought on second-and-goal they punched in a 5-yard touchdown run.
But Leon Allen was ruled down at the 1 after a referee review, and WKU was stuffed on both third and fourth down attempts (more on that later.)
If you’re WKU, absolutely, you wanted those points. But this wasn’t worst-case scenario, worst-case scenario was giving MTSU the ball AGAIN at midfield. Instead now, the Blue Raiders take over at their own 1.
Get a stop here, and you’re in good position to try to score again.
And that’s exactly what WKU did, forcing MTSU into a three-and-out. Criticize the defense as you will, this was huge, enabling WKU to take over again with great position at their own 46.
But facing a third-and-1 at the MTSU 18, WKU was stuffed (again, more on that later.) Then, Garrett Schwettman misses the 37-yard field goal attempt.
Now, you’ve got a problem. Two trips inside the Blue Raider redzone, 0 points.
MTSU takes the next drive 80 yards in 8 plays, scoring a touchdown and taking a 31-24 lead with 11:37 left in the game.
Obviously, WKU ended up tying, and could have easily won the game in overtime. All was not lost because of the above sequences. It cannot be said enough that WKU could very easily be 2-1 right now, and this is a totally different recap.
But that’s how you can lose a game when you are both more explosive (big plays,) and more efficient (moving the chains,) than your opponent.
Explosiveness and efficiency are so vital because it gives you more scoring opportunities. More opportunities on average, usually, will result in more points. That’s--again, usually--preferable to getting less opportunities, and having to make every one of them count.
This was not one of those usual nights. MTSU was getting lit up nearing the end of the first half, got their one cheap opportunity to even the score, and nailed it. WKU got two chances to take a late third quarter/early fourth quarter lead, and didn’t convert either.
Play this game 10 times, WKU wins eight. But you only get to play once, and this one went to MTSU.
Now, let’s examine what I see as a big misconception from last night, and then see where we go from here.
3) Short yardage playcalling: Fans were up in arms about short yardage play calling last night, after WKU was stuffed on both third and fourth-and-goal from the MTSU 1 in the third quarter.
I’m charting every short-yardage run this season in an Excel sheet for a stat that Football Outsiders calls “Power Success Rate.”
PSR is any third-and-2, or fourth-and-2 and less, plus first and second-and-goal from the 2-yard line or less. Success = First down or touchdown. Counts quarterback runs as well as running back.
Check out WKU’s results on runs this season leading up to that fateful goalline stuff.
• Vs. BGSU: Second-and-goal at BGSU 2. Leon Allen, 2-yard TD run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. BGSU: Third-and-1 at BGSU 37. Brandon Doughty, 3-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. BGSU: Third-and-1 at BGSU 26. Leon Allen, 16-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. BGSU: Third-and-goal at BGSU 1. Anthony Wales, 1-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. Illinois: First-and-goal at ILL 2. Leon Allen, 0-yard run. FAIL.
• Vs. Illinois: Second-and-goal at ILL 2. Leon Allen, 1-yard run. FAIL.
• Vs. Illinois: Fourth-and-goal at ILL 1. Leon Allen, 1-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-1 at WKU 33. Leon Allen, 1-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. MTSU: First-and-goal at MTSU 2. Leon Allen, 2-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-1 at MTSU 13. Leon Allen, 7-yard run. SUCCESS.
So in short-yardage runs leading up to the goalline stuff , WKU had been successful on 8-of-10 attempts on the season, including 6-of-8 with Leon Allen and 3-for-3 against MTSU.
They punched in a fourth-and-goal on the 1 with Allen against Illinois. They punched in a first-and-goal from the 2 with Allen earlier in the MTSU game. And in the redzone on that fateful drive, they gained 7 yards with Allen on a third-and-1 from the MTSU 13.
If that's not enough, WKU had 25 running back carries so far in the game entering the third-and-goal at the 1--Not a SINGLE carry up the middle had been stuffed (0 yards gained or less,) at the line. Not one.
WKU thought they had their touchdown on second-and-goal from the 5, but it was ruled down at the 1 after review.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-goal at the MTSU 1. Leon Allen, 0-yard run. FAIL.
• Vs. MTSU: Fourth-and-goal at MTSU 1. Leon Allen, 0-yard run. FAIL.
Attempts the rest of the game.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-1 at MTSU 18. Leon Allen, minus 2-yard run. FAIL.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-2 at MTSU 23. Leon Allen, 4-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-1 at WKU 33. Leon Allen, 2-yard run. SUCCESS.
• Vs. MTSU: Third-and-1 at MTSU 41. Leon Allen, 8-yard run. SUCCESS.
Like I said earlier, if you play this game 10 times, WKU wins 8. Charts like the above are reasons why.
Given the opportunity to convert a third/fourth-and-short, most of the time, WKU is succeeding. The rare time they didn’t, MTSU gets a huge break. No touchdown after the goalline fails, and then Schwettman missed the field goal after WKU’s third-and-1 failed attempt from the MTSU 18, further amplifying the failure.
Was it a predictable playcall for Allen to go up the middle on both third and fourth-and-goal from the 1? Yes. But is it a winning playcall most of the time? Yes. Just didn’t go your way this time, friends. It happens.
Don’t make me dig up the creative playcall from the Louisiana-Lafayette 1-yard line in 2013.
• Fourth-and-goal at ULL 1. Brandon Doughty intercepted by Al Riles, returned 99 yards for a touchdown.
4) Great day for offensive line: On a brighter note, this was statistically, the best game of the year for WKU’s offensive line.
They averaged 3.39 line yards per carry, which if earned regularly, would put them in the (raw) top 25th percentile of FBS offensive lines.
Only 3 of 33 running back carries were stuffed at the line, for a 9.1 percent stuff rate. Again, very solid.
The best stat? Only 1 sack allowed in 58 regulation pass attempts, a 1.9 percent sack rate.
Just noting though, good day for offensive line.
Where do we go from here?:
No doubt about it, this was a game that could have taken a lot of pressure off WKU. Going into the Navy game 2-1 was very ideal.
Now, they’re 1-2, with a very possible chance of starting the season 1-3.
The silver lining is, the offensive line showed their best game (statistically,) yet. And despite Doughty’s big day, the receiver stats were mediocre (by their standards anyway,) and should be better most days out.
Tough loss to swallow, but fortunately for them, WKU has a bye week to mentally recover, prepare for Navy and their triple-option. As bad as many will feel today, it could be much worse.
BGSU beat Indiana this weekend with a backup quarterback, so it’s not like they were a pushover in the season opener, despite the score differential of that game.
Lots to like about this team, but lots of areas identified for improvement. Let’s see where it goes from here.
Share your postgame thoughts on our Topper Club forum, and stay tuned with WKUInsider.com for the latest in WKU recruiting and team news.