Instead of the usual Five Factors recap, today we’re diving deep into the numbers from Saturday’s second half debacle.
I may not be able to tell you how or why these second half collapses keep happening to WKU, but we can at least understand the depth of failure in the latter part of the contest, after a (quickly forgotten,) incredible first half performance.
WKU fourth quarter offense: 10 percent success rate, after a 56 percent first half success rate.
• First-and-10 at WKU 30: Kylen Towner, rush for loss of 1-yard.
• First-and-10 at FAU 43: Anthony Wales, 1-yard rush.
• Second-and-9 at FAU 42: Brandon Doughty, incomplete pass.
• Third-and-9 at FAU 42: Brandon Doughty, incomplete pass.
• First-and-10 at WKU 25: Brandon Doughty, 4-yard completion to Jared Dangerfield.
• Second-and-6 at WKU 29: Brandon Doughty, incomplete pass.
• Third-and-6 at WKU 29: Brandon Doughty, incomplete pass.
• First-and-10 at WKU 32: Brandon Doughty, sacked for 7-yard loss.
• Second-and-17 at WKU 25: Brandon Doughty, sacked for 3-yard loss, fumble lost.
That’s a net total of 22 yards in the fourth quarter, even after a 28-yard completion.
WKU’s offense scored 4 touchdowns and a field goal in 7 first half drives. In 5 second half drives, 3 drives earned 0 first downs, 1 earned 1 first down, and the final remaining drive earned a touchdown after they first settled for a field goal--but were gifted a roughing-the-kicker penalty.
I have no idea how a team goes from scoring the equivalent of a touchdown every 9 plays in the first half to those second half numbers. You can try to pinpoint one area—coaching adjustments, maybe bad breaks, whatever excuse you want to use—but that doesn’t do it justice. Charlie Partridge is not Bill Belichick.
On the flip side, the defense faced 5 FAU drives in the second half (the sixth was a clock-killer with :40 to play, doesn’t count.)
The Tops allowed 4 touchdowns and a field goal in those 5 FAU drives, 31 points allowed in 39 plays—A 0.795 points per play average. Georgia leads the country in that statistic on the season with a 0.636 average, and WKU wasn’t exactly suiting up against the Bulldogs on Saturday.
When a team is nearing averaging a point for every play ran, that’s bad news.
The crazy thing is, WKU held FAU to a 0.298 points per play average in the first half. Again, that’s actually good, WKU can win a lot of games with that number. But then the second half happened.
The worst was a 14-play, 96-yard touchdown drive early in the fourth quarter that eclipsed almost 8 minutes.
As has been the story so far this year, WKU was actually somewhat feasible on early downs on that drive, and standard downs to an extent.
In 10 FAU plays ran on first or second down on that drive, the Owls averaged 3.6 yards per play. That’s usually good enough to get a defense off the field, all you need to do is finish the drive, make one final stop.
But that final stop never came.
• Third-and-4 at FAU 10: Jaquez Johnson Wales, 40-yard rush to WKU 50.
The Toppers were ahead 38-31 at this time. Force FAU to punt from their own 10, and WKU’s offense gets great field position. Sputtering or not, you have a good chance to go ahead two possessions with just a couple first downs.
Instead, the Owls now have the ball at midfield.
• Third-and-5 at WKU 31: Jaquez Johnson, 3-yard completion to WKU 28.
This does not count as a stop to me. I think FAU was going for it on fourth down here either way. Their kicker had already missed attempts from 46 and 34 yards (did have one make from 32 yards out,) and this would have been a 45-yard attempt with FAU trailing by a touchdown. They were already 4-for-4 on the day on fourth down conversions.
• Fourth-and-2 at WKU 28: Jaquez Johnson, 7-yard completion to WKU 21.
• Third-and-4 at WKU 15: Greg Howell, 10-yard rush to the WKU 5.
Where do we go from here?
Call me a homer or whatever you want, but there’s still a lot to like about this team. Just ask Kentucky fans after this weekend what happens when you get too caught up in overall records and don’t dive into the numbers.
WKU’s numbers are great on offense, obviously not great on defense. But that combination has been good enough to lead by double-digits in 5 of 6 games played this year; the Tops and No. 1 Mississippi State are the only programs in the nation to score 34 points or more in every 2014 contest so far.
WKU’s projected record falls right around 4-2. They aren’t that—I know. But that projected record means they’re a much better team than the 2-4 they’re stamped with, so not all is lost on the year just yet.
Four of their next five games are at home. If WKU can just keep playing the same way they are in first halves, and play even just mediocre in second halves, they have a great chance to win most of those games.
And winning four of the next five would make them bowl-eligible (6-5) before heading to No. 25 Marshall to close the season.