WKU set to face winless Charlotte

Sam Porter

For the second week in a row, the WKU football team will play against a Conference USA opponent without a single victory this year.

The Hilltoppers host Charlotte Saturday for their homecoming matchup in a C-USA East showdown. The 49ers enter the game 0-6, including a 35-31 loss to North Carolina A&T of the FCS level. Charlotte, which many polls have ranked at the bottom of the nation, lost its first four games by an average of 24.25 points. However, the 49ers have kept things interesting in their first two C-USA games, only losing by one point to Florida International and 11 to Marshall in their last two outings. With a win, the Hilltoppers will improve to 4-2 overall which would top last year’s 3-3 start through the first half of the regular season.

“We’re really hoping for a packed house,” redshirt junior punter Jake Collins said Monday. “In the past, Homecoming has always been a really good turnout and we hope that’s the same. We want to run out of the tunnel and see a packed Houch.”

WKU, which ranks third in C-USA in scoring defense, allowing just 19 points per game and first against the run (122 yards per game), will get its first test against a true dual-threat quarterback this season. Charlotte quarterback Hasaan Klugh leads all C-USA quarterbacks in rushing yards with 301 and is averaging exactly 4.0 yards per carry to go along with five touchdowns. Klugh has accounted for all 10 of Charlotte’s touchdowns this season (five passing, five rushing). While he may be the most significant running threat out of all the quarterbacks in C-USA, Klugh’s performance through the air has been quite the opposite. Klugh ranks dead last among the 14 quarterbacks in C-USA in passing efficiency (89.1), throwing eight interceptions and completing less than 50 percent of his passes in 2017.

“They do have an athletic quarterback, and they like to mix it up with the run and pass,” WKU coach Mike Sanford said. “They run a similar scheme to what Nevada ran with Colin Kaepernick. A lot of pistol formations and zone reads. We have to play assignment football when they line up in those sets.”

While the defense has been the superior phase of the WKU football team in 2017, the offense will have an opportunity to have the breakout game Hilltopper fans have been anticipating against Charlotte. The 49ers are giving up over 30 points a game this season and have given up at least 24 in each contest. However, Charlotte is coming off its best defensive performance of the season in a 14-3 loss to Marshall while WKU managed just 15 points against a winless UTEP team. Sanford mentioned he hopes to get more downfield throws on Saturday. Redshirt senior quarterback Mike White is averaging just over 10 yards per completion in 2017 after averaging over 15 yards per completion last season.

“Lately, we’ve been working on beating the press man and getting downfield,” redshirt freshman wide receiver Xavier Lane said. “We just have some little things to work on. We’re not perfect. I feel like we just have to come together, and when we do, we’ll rise to the top. I think we’re close to busting open.”

The Hilltoppers and 49ers kick off at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. It will be the first time the two programs have ever faced off.

“For us, the theme this week is to continue to find ways to win,” Sanford said.

“We all want style points. I want to score a lot more points than we are. But number one, we have to accomplish the mission of winning football games. We have a chance to push our winning streak to three.”

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