Throughout most of the Sun Belt Conference the FIU defense encounters fast-tempo spread offenses with mobile quarterbacks. Not so with the WKU offense that descends on FIU Stadium for Saturday evening's 6:04 p.m kickoff. You can listen to the game on the FIU Sports Radio Network with myself and Jerry del Castillo calling the action. Pregame show begins at 5:30 p.m.
Obviously not on the same level, but the Hilltoppers offense reminds me a little of the old New York Giants offenses under Bill Parcells that pounded the football with a physical offensive line and running backs, and then when you weren't expecting it, hit you with play action to an athletic tight end and wily receivers.
WKU's offense averages 188.3 yards on the ground per game and has possessed the football almost nine more minutes than opponents. On top of all that, the Hilltoppers have had only six -- yes, six -- three-and-outs all season. So you can see why WKU is sitting at 5-2 in prime position for a bowl game and possible SBC title.
Leading the Hilltoppers is quarterback Kawaun Jakes, who wasn't exactly the picture of accuracy in his last two games against FIU. Jakes completed just 8 of 24 passes in last season's 10-9 WKU win in Bowling Green, Ky. Jakes was 14 of 31 in 2010 at FIU Stadium. However, to Jakes's credit he has drastically improved in WKU's West Coast offense. Jakes has completed 70 percent of his passes this season and is currently ranked No. 9 in passing efficiency (166.47) in the nation.
What certainly has helped Jakes has been the WKU running game, featuring Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen. WKU averages 4.6 yards per carry. Andrews and Allen, each get more than 5.5 yards per rush. Opposing defenses tend to key in on the WKU running game, but defenses have to be wary of the play action pass. Jakes will look for 6-6 tight end Jack Doyle, who had a touchdown against FIU in the 2010 game, and has three touchdowns this season. Speedy receiver Willie McNeal leads WKU with four touchdowns.
While in games past the FIU defense has had to deal with running quarterbacks and the read-option, the WKU offense comes at a defense and tries to him them in the mouth. Jakes can be elusive if he needs to be, but most of his running comes in bootlegs or rollouts. The WKU offense will be another stout test for the FIU defense. The Panthers need to stop the WKU run and make Jakes try to beat them with his arm because the success of the Hilltoppers overall offense is predicated on the success of their running game.
WKU brings a stingy defense allowing just 316 total yards per game, but I like FIU's chances to stretch the field on the Hilltoppers with the recent emergence of Willis Wright and Glenn Coleman. The Hilltoppers will bring pressure on Jake Medlock, especially with linebacker Andrew Jackson and defensive lineman Quanterus Smith. If the offensive line can protect Medlock, the Panthers will move the ball on WKU.
With Kedrick Rhodes not at 100 percent, I think Jeremiah Harden could be a big part of this game along with Darian Mallary. Harden is the type of tough back who moves the piles to go against the physical WKU defense. Should the Panthers have success running the ball, Medlock could have a field day against the WKU secondary.
Yet, I think this game will be decided on how well the FIU defense can stop that clock-churning, yard-gobbling, physical WKU offense. The last two games between FIU and WKU have been decided by an average of four points. If the Panthers defense handles the Hilltoppers offense, I can envision FIU not only defeating WKU, but not having the game come down to the last drive like it has the last two weeks.