The Buckeyes are ready for their final tune-up game in advance of the week four tilt with Notre Dame. But with Ohio State’s offense still stuck in second grear, this game against the Hilltoppers suddenly becomes more interesting just due to the fact that WKU puts up points on just about everyone.
Tyson Helton’s squad may not win every game but they have won a lot of them in Conference USA during his run in Bowling Green (Ky.) and regardless if you are Power Five or Group of Five, you better be ready to defend all parts of the field.
That may work out for Ohio State in many regards as the Ohio State defense has looked good over the last two games, but we all know that Indiana and Youngstown State are not nearly as talented on the offensive side of the ball as Western Kentucky is with quarterback Austin Reed and receiver Malachi Corley.
Let’s make one thing clear however, this game is not any sort of final exam or referendum on the Buckeyes this year, this is only game three but some major strides on offense while holding up on defense may give people some renewed vigor and confidence going into Notre Dame week.
First things first however, there is a game with Western Kentucky that needs to be played and seeing that this is Ohio State’s first ever game against the Hilltoppers in football, going behind enemy lines was more important this week than in most other weeks.
That is why we are pleased to be joined by Derrick Deen of InsideHilltopperSports.com to get some of the intel on the Hilltoppers in advance of this game. How will things play out?
What is the status of Malachi Corley after getting injured against USF and not playing against HCU? How is this offense different without him and who needs to step up if he is still unable to go?
Derrick Deen: As of the Houston Christian game, Malachi Corley is all clear. Against USF, Corley sustained bruised ribs, and sat out against the Huskies because it’s just not worth risking injury to a star player against an FCS opponent, especially one that was just a little banged up the week before. Corley was dressed for the Huskies game.
The offense doesn’t take nearly as many shots down the field or outside-the-numbers in the intermediate game without Corley. With both Corley and Michael Mathison out, we’ve been able to get an idea of what the offense is without the number one and two receivers. In one word? Short. 60% of the team’s passes have come behind the line of scrimmage or in the short range (0-9 yards). Receiver’s Dalvin Smith, Easton Messer, Blue Smith, KD Hutchinson, and Jimmy Holiday have had to step up in a major way, with this group combining for 40 receptions, 435 yards, and four touchdowns.
Austin Reed could have easily transferred out after last season but opted to stay. How important is he for the WKU offense and team in general, especially in this day and age of the transfer portal?
Derrick Deen: Reed’s presence on this offense is vital, and his role was a major factor in onboarding offensive weapons from the portal like Holiday, (Blue) Smith, Ze’Vian Capers, Trevor Borland, Willie Taggart Jr, and so many more.
Reed stepped right into the Ben Arbuckle offense last season and made a major splash right away, leading the nation in passing yards (4,746). Replacing Reed with an unfamiliar quarterback (especially one that isn’t well-tuned to the many returning starters) would’ve been a tall and rather unsuccessful task.
The numbers for the WKU defense against the run are not good. Why is that and is there something in particular that stands out about the lack of success as the No. 130 team in rushing defense?
Derrick Deen: Hard-hitting and brutally honest question. It’s true – the Western Kentucky run defense is right there at 130, beneath schools like UConn, UMass, and Arkansas State.
Following the 2022 campaign, the defense lost several stars in defensive tackle Brodric Martin, cornerback Kahlef Hailassie, linebacker Derrick Smith, safety Kaleb Oliver, edge Juwuan Jones, linebacker Will Ignont, and several more valuable run defenders. The team has a hard time replacing them – allowing the FCS Huskies several big run plays and USF to put up 374 ground yards and two touchdowns shows that.
As it currently stands, defensive back Upton Stout and linebacker Desmyn Baker are two of the defense’s best run defenders. The Western Kentucky defense lacks a space-eating presence in the defensive interior, and the front seven is particularly full of young and rather inexperienced players.
Ohio State has won both of its games but has not exactly been one of the most impressive teams at the top of the rankings. How is this game being viewed by Western Kentucky? Is there a fear that Ohio State might get it turned around in this one or does WKU see a tremendous opportunity against an Ohio State team that has not figured a lot of things out yet?
Derrick Deen: There was a lot of excitement prior to the season’s start about how competitive this game might be. Now, with Ohio State seeing some early struggles, there is a lot of anticipation that Western Kentucky might be able to show up in a big way in Columbus.
While there isn’t a fear per say, there is the realization that Western Kentucky hasn’t been so hot either, primarily on the defensive side of the ball, and while missing the top two receivers on offense. Western Kentucky will play a competitive football game, nonetheless, against a Buckeyes squad that came away with an ugly win against Indiana and an underwhelming victory over Youngstown State.
How do you see this game playing out and what is your prediction for an outcome?
Derrick Deen: This is a tricky question because this is based on how the Western Kentucky staff views the game. If Corley and Mathison are healthy, do you play them and risk injury before conference play begins? Or do you want to show your cards on offense, play the stars, try something new defensively, and have a chance at coming away with a big win on national television?
If WKU Goes In Guns Ablazing: 34 – 35, Ohio State.
If WKU Wants To Play Safe…: 24 – 42, Ohio State.