Hilltoppers travel to Old Dominion in C-USA East showdown

WKU Head Coach Mike Stanford gets his team energized his team before taking the field at WKU’s Home Coming Football Game on Saturday, Oct. 14 in Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Sam Porter

For the third week in a row, the WKU football team will take on another struggling Conference USA team as the Hilltoppers travel to Norfolk, Virginia for an East division showdown against Old Dominion.

The Monarchs enter the contest 2-4 (0-2 C-USA) and have lost four straight games by 30 points or more. Two of those losses came against ACC opponents while the other two came against C-USA foes. The Hilltoppers will look to put away their road woes as they have struggled in both road games this season, falling to Illinois 20-7 in a game where the offense netted just six rushing yards, as well as a 15-14 win over winless UTEP.

“One weakness for us has been playing on the road and we’ll have to face that weakness this week against a very good Old Dominion team,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “They’ve had a gauntlet these past four games, particularly against North Carolina and Virginia Tech, two of the better teams in the ACC. That’s a tough deal for a Group of 5 team. We haven’t played anyone on the level of Virginia Tech. [Old Dominion hasn’t] batted an eye, and they’re playing with incredible effort and resolve.”

For WKU, the biggest challenge will be holding off the ODU pass rush. The Monarchs lead the C-USA in sacks with 20 while WKU has given up the most sacks in the conference at 18 through six games this season. The ODU defense is anchored by its two defensive ends, Oshane Ximines and Bunmi Rotimi, who have combined for 8.5 sacks this season, the most of any duo in C-USA. Sanford mentioned NFL scouts told him they believe the tandem of Ximinies and Rotimi is one of the best across the landscape of college football.

Last week in a 45-14 win over Char- lotte, the WKU offensive line didn’t give up a sack for the first time all season. Redshirt senior offensive linemen Jimmie Sims and Matt Nord will get the challenge of protecting redshirt senior quarterback Mike White from Ximinies and Rotimi.

“They have a pretty active front, I know No. 7 (Ximinies) is one of the leaders in the conference in sacks,” Sims said. “Every game we try to improve, we try to strive to do something better and improve our performance individually and as a unit. We strive to do that every week.”

Defensively, the WKU defense will look to keep up its stellar play. The Hilltoppers currently rank second in scoring defense (18.2 points per game) and are giving up just 17 PPG through three C-USA games. The Monarchs of- fense enters the game averaging exactly 17 PPG on the year. In the last three meetings between the two schools, the average scoring margin has been 60- 35, including a 59-24 Hilltopper victory in Bowling Green last season. To prevent another shootout, the Hilltoppers may have to do so without senior cornerback Joe Brown who is nursing a shoulder injury and redshirt sophomore defensive end Evan Sayner who went down with a leg injury last week. Both Brown and Sayner are questionable for Friday’s game.

“Whether [Sayner] is up or whether he is not, we do feel like our defense has had an incredible resolve to have  the next man up mentality,” Sanford said.

“The next man up has been a big part of what we’ve done defensively. This past week I thought DeAndre Farris, Roger Cray and Leverick Johnson did a great job for filling in for maybe the best corner in the conference (Brown) which is what we played without last week.”

The Hilltoppers and Monarchs are set to kickoff on Friday night at 5 p.m. at Foreman Field in Norfolk, West Vir- ginia. The game will be aired on the CBS Sports Network. 

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.