Vegas pegged WKU to lose at Louisiana Tech on Saturday by a touchdown. Other prediction sites went as far as to favor the Bulldogs by 8-10 points.
So how in the world did we get to La. Tech 59, WKU 10?
I can’t fully explain “how”—I’m not in the locker room, and besides, anything can happen in a given game. But we can at least try for “why” we got here.
Sidenote: Unless noted otherwise, all game stats mentioned only include up to 8:49 left in the third quarter, when La. Tech took a 45-10 lead and garbage time ensued. While making these stats “incomplete”, they tell the game’s story more accurately than looking at the entire contest.
1) Louisiana Tech’s “Havoc”
In my game preview, I wrote about Louisiana Tech’s swarming defense and their “Havoc” rating. Entering the contest, the Bulldogs averaged a tackle for loss, forced fumble, pass breakup or interception on 19.7 percent of defensed plays, the 17th best rate in FBS. So nearly 1 in every 5 plays, La. Tech forces a big zero or negative yardage play, or a turnover.
This was supposed to be a fantastic clash with WKU’s offense, which featured the FBS’s No. 6 best success rate entering the game. The Tops offense is usually so successful because they avoid the aforementioned plays at an incredible rate. For example, they only allow a "stuff"--a carry of 0 or negative yardage--once every 7 rushes, and quarterback Brandon Doughty had only been sacked 10 times in 333 dropbacks, a 3.0 percent rate (So about 1 every 32 pass attempts.)
But instead of meeting in the middle, Louisiana Tech won this battle going away. In 45 plays defensed, they forced 6 tackles for loss, 6 pass breakups, and 2 interceptions—An incredible 31.1 percent rate (almost 1 every 3 plays.) 3 of the TFL’s were sacks on Doughty, with WKU losing 26 yards in just those three plays. Doughty had 29 dropbacks, giving La. Tech a 10.3 percent sack rate.
2) Pass/run playcall ratio
In 45 plays, WKU called (by my count,) 29 passes and 16 rushes. Looking at success rate, the Tops were successful on 9-of-16 run plays, a 56 percent rate—which is great. Leon Allen averaged 6.3 yards a carry, with half of his 12 carries earning 5 yards or more, and Anthony Wales managed to rip off a 46-yarder at the game’s outset.
Conversely, WKU was only successful on 7-of-29 pass plays—A 24 percent rate. There were a myriad of dropped balls, pass breakups, interceptions, sacks, hurried throws. Even completed passes were (mostly) very short receptions, the Tops unable to earn their usual yards after catch.
So why the imbalance in play calling--only 36 percent run plays--when the pass was struggling so bad? WKU was still in this one for a while, only trailing 24-10 with 4:15 left in the first half after a Garrett Schwettman field goal. And that’s with La. Tech spotted an extra 7 points off a kick return touchdown where it looked like the player stepped out at midfield (the call was reviewed, and ruled as “stands”.)
I’m not one to usually question coaching. Most of the time, coaches make the right calls, it just doesn’t always work out--so people use hindsight to criticize them. In basketball, if you have an easy wide-open shot and miss it, that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right shot. It just didn’t work out that time.
But this is one case where I need some clarification, because the numbers just don’t make sense. I would understand after WKU was down 45-10, but that’s one reason we aren’t looking at the numbers that followed that mark.
I wrote last week how WKU's offensive line had their best game of the year against Old Dominion, and it seemed at least some of that carried over early on (in the run,) against the Bulldogs. I’m just not sure why WKU didn't keep it on the ground more.
3) Field position, critical injuries on defense
With a defense that was already struggling this year, and their biggest weakness being pass defense, the very last thing WKU needed was an injury to senior cornerback Cam Thomas, one of a handful of Tops attracting NFL looks this year. To pile on, junior cornerback Wonderful Terry was also held out of the game.
Surprisingly, the defense actually stood strong for the first half. They allowed 24 points, but WKU’s offensive struggles left the defense facing very difficult field position over and over. La. Tech started 3 of their 10 first half drives already in WKU territory, and a fourth started at the Bulldogs 49.
After opening the second half from their own 14, La. Tech’s following 3 drives started at the WKU 19, WKU 17, and WKU 25. Their average starting field position for the entire game was basically midfield, the Bulldogs 48-yard line. That’s absurd.
Despite the defense giving an admirable effort, the effect of the injuries still showed. Forrest Coleman, Thomas’ replacement, was targeted all afternoon by the Bulldogs. He led the defense with 7 tackles, and when a cornerback leads your team in tackles--especially with no interceptions or pass breakups--that’s never a good sign. He was followed by safety Marcus Ward and cornerback Prince Charles-Iworah with 6 each.
The season is not over: As bad as this game was for WKU, it was still just one game. They’ve got three straight home contests coming up against UTEP, Army and UTSA, the easiest three-game stretch they’ve faced this year--all things considered.
Manage to win those, and WKU’s sitting at 6-5 before traveling to Marshall to close out the season.
The defense showed their first signs of life in a while on Saturday, and could get Thomas and Terry back for those games.
UTSA (No. 49 ranked unit,) is the only defense of the three even close to Louisiana Tech (No. 35,) but they haven't played well lately and odds are Doughty doesn’t have that poor of a performance again.
Now, I wouldn’t bet on WKU to win the next three, although they’ll likely be a favorite in two and the third a tossup. But is it possible?
Stay tuned this week for fully updated offensive and defensive season stats, including what DID go well on Saturday for WKU.