WKU set to host Kiffin for C-USA showdown

WKU wide receiver Jacquez Sloan (2), runs right side of the field at WKU Homecoming football game on Saturday Oct. 14, 2017 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Sam Porter

A game with huge Conference USA implications will take place in Bowling Green on Saturday when the WKU football team (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) hosts Florida Atlantic (4-3, 3-0 C-USA).

FAU got off to a rocky 1-3 start, but has reeled off three straight C-USA wins by an average of 28.6 points and currently sits atop the C-USA East standings.

The Owls are coached by former Alabama offensive coordinator Lane Kiffin who has quickly gotten the program back on the right track in his first year as head coach after the team went 3-9 last year. Kiffin also brought along former Baylor offensive coordinator Kendall Briles, who directed the number one scoring offense in the nation in 2015.

“He’s done a great job,” head coach Mike Sanford said about Kiffin. “One storyline about FAU in the offseason was the amount of transfers they brought in, but when you look up and down their production, a good chunk of their offensive and defensive production comes from players that were at FAU prior to him arriving on campus. That speaks obviously to the change that coach Kiffin and coach Briles have put in place.”

One major asset of the turnaround at FAU has been the offensive production, most notably in the run game. Briles and company currently rank first in C-USA in scoring offense (39.1 points per game) and rushing offense (285.6 yards per game). FAU running backs Devin Singletary and Greg Howell have combined for over 1,300 rushing yards and 17 touchdowns through seven games.

Quarterback Jason Driskel is averaging 7.1 yards per rush, more than any starting running back in C-USA, and has found the end zone five times as well. Two weeks ago, the WKU defense ranked first in C-USA against the run. However, the Hilltoppers have struggled against the run in their last two games, giving up over 250 rushing yards in each game along with six total touchdowns. The Owls’ offense is entering Bowling Green on a roll, scoring 38, 58 and 69 points in its past three games, including seven rushing touchdowns in a 69-31 victory over North Texas last week.

“FAU is really good at running the ball so we’re going to be really good at our run fits this week,” redshirt junior defensive lineman Julien Lewis said. “We have to force them to throw and get QB pressure to get them out of their comfort zone.”

The WKU defense may face its toughest challenge of the year without some key players. Redshirt junior defensive lineman Evan Sayner will have to undergo season-ending surgery on his leg and redshirt freshman safety Devon Key and senior defensive back Joe Brown are both questionable. Brown, who leads WKU with two interceptions, has missed two straight games. Key, who is the second leading tackler on the team, missed his first game of the year last week against Old Dominion.

Defensively, the Owls rank first in C-USA in interceptions with 12. FAU cornerback Chris Tooley leads all of C-USA in interceptions (4) and has also returned a fumble for a touchdown so far in 2017.

Over the past four games, redshirt senior quarterback Mike White has proven why he was named preseason C-USA Offensive Player of the Year. White has thrown 10 touchdowns over the past two games after throwing just two over the first five games. White and company will look to continue their productive play in what could easily be the highest scoring game of the year in Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“We’re going to need every single one of the Hilltopper fans, students, anybody within six hours who wants to come watch a great football game,” Sanford said. “Come here and let’s pack the Houch. It’s going to be a great challenge for us, we’re going to be tested mightily against a team that’s moving the ball at will on everybody in our conference.”

FAU and WKU kickoff at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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