Any number of statistical oddities can occur in a single game, but for the most part, a season’s worth of data will not lie. With that in mind, I wanted to take a look at the Oct. 6 meeting between Louisiana Tech and Western Kentucky – a 55-52 win for the Bulldogs – and see what we can expect in Saturday’s rematch for the conference title.
Let’s start with what we all remember: Carlos Henderson’s 8-catch, 232-yard, 3-touchdown explosion in that game. One would think a performance of that level won’t be replicated, but there may not be as much of a regression as you think: Western Kentucky has a history of letting good C-USA receivers go for more than their season average. Middle Tennessee State’s Richie James averages 121 yards per game but went for 223 on Western Kentucky; Old Dominion’s Zach Pascal averages 74 yards per game and 14 yards per catch, but went for 93 yards and 23 yards per catch on the Hilltoppers.
Takeaway: Carlos Henderson probably won’t go for 232 yards and three scores again, but that doesn’t mean he – and maybe Trent Taylor, as well – won’t have fantastic games, at least over 100 yards and a score.
Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White completed 72 percent of his passes in the regular season meeting – 36-50 – which sounds really high, but in actuality it’s only slightly higher than his completion percentage for the season (67.3, 239-355). When the competition gets better, so does White: against FBS teams with a winning record (White has had four such games this year), he is completing 70.5 percent of his passes, ranking fourth in the nation.
Takeaway: White was really good against Tech – and none of that mentioned his five touchdowns with no interceptions in that game – but the stats don’t suggest he’s due for a regression.
One could look at Western Kentucky’s 87 rushing yards and Louisiana Tech’s 107 yards and roll their eyes at the incapable run games (I admit, I did so), but the numbers don’t shame those performances. Both teams averaged around 3.8 yards per carry in that game, give or take a fraction of a yard, which is right around the middle of the pack in terms of national average against FBS teams with winning records. Those numbers are a little better than average for those defenses, but still hover near the average: in rushing yards allowed per game against FBS opponents with winning records, Western Kentucky gives up 117.25 and Louisiana Tech gives up 130.
Takeaway: Western Kentucky may crack the 100-yard barrier in rushing yards this time around (as it does on average, running for roughly 120 yards per game against FBS teams with winning records), but the numbers don’t suggest either team is due for a significant increase or decrease in rushing production in the rematch.
Neither QB threw an interception, Louisiana Tech didn’t fumble and Western Kentucky fumbled four times, losing two of them to make for a -2 turnover margin for the Hilltoppers. Finally, we have something that appears to be a statistical anomaly: Western Kentucky has a +2 turnover margin on the year where Louisiana Tech is at -1. (SB Nation’s Bill Connelly’s metrics have the Hilltoppers as a lucky team in the turnover department, with what he deems as turnover luck netting the Hilltoppers a point per game.)
Takeaway: If you’re of the opinion that being +2 in the turnover battle was the reason Louisiana Tech won this game in the regular season, you have reason to fear this rematch.
One more number that isn’t becoming of Louisiana Tech’s chances: Western Kentucky blocked a punt and returned it for a touchdown in the regular season meeting. That may seem like a fluke that likely won’t repeat itself, but the Hilltoppers have been making big plays in the punt return game all year long. They rank second in the nation in yards per punt return, just shy of 18, and are one of just four teams in the nation to have returned more than two punts for touchdowns this year (joining Alabama, Akron and Texas A&M).
Takeaway: Punting the ball to Western Kentucky is a dangerous prospect: not only because you’re putting a potent offense back on the field, but there’s no guarantee that punt return unit allows the offense to regain the ball.
Brett Hudson ESPN 97.7FM