Week 6 Thursday games feature Sam Houston State vs. Liberty and Western Kentucky vs. Louisiana Tech
Conference USA has taken a page out of the MAC’s playbook with weekday games this season. That includes Thursday matchups and those are the only two in Week 6 with Sam Houston State vs. Liberty on CBS Sports Network at 7:00 p.m. ET and Western Kentucky vs. Louisiana Tech in the late game at 8:00 p.m. ET on ESPNU.
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The path to a perfect season is very much a reality for Liberty. The Flames play a very weak schedule in Conference USA and have a weak non-conference slate as well. Don’t let that take away from how well this team is playing, though. Liberty has scored at least 33 points in every game and is 4-0 with four wins by double digits.
Head coach Jamey Chadwell has come in and had instant success, despite an offense that can be a little bit tricky to grasp. Early returns at Coastal Carolina when he was hired as offensive coordinator and then filled in as head coach for Joe Moglia weren’t great, but once he got an experienced QB in Grayson McCall, everything clicked. It sure seems to have clicked for Kaidon Salter, who has an 11/1 TD/INT ratio and has only been sacked three times.
Along with Salter’s passing success, he’s also rushed for 5.7 yards per carry and leads the team with five rushing touchdowns. Overall, Liberty has averaged six yards per carry on the season. They should test the limits of a Sam Houston State defense that has played really well, given how little help the offense has provided. The Bearkats have only allowed 5.28 yards per play, though they have struggled in that department the last two weeks.
It seems like SHSU’s lack of depth as a transitioning FCS program is taking hold. Either that or the lack of offense is. Even with a better performance last week against Jacksonville State, the Bearkats have mustered just 3.61 YPP on offense. The next lowest is Iowa with 4.35, so they are far and away at the bottom of the nation. Their 262 rush yards are easily the lowest in the country.
My Power Ratings show value on Liberty here, as my line is Liberty -24 here. I don’t think Sam Houston State can keep pace and Liberty is off of a bye, which has allowed Chadwell to get deeper into the offensive playbook.
Pick: Liberty -18.5
If the Hilltoppers are starting to find complementary pieces for Malachi Corley, this becomes a very dangerous team. The Hilltoppers got off to a bit of a slow start this season, as Corley drew a lot more attention from opposing defenses without Daewood Davis and Jaylen Hall. Easton Messer has touchdown catches in three of his last four games and is up to nearly 300 yards for the season, as Corley keeps doing his thing while attracting double and bracket coverage.
We’ll see if the Louisiana Tech defense can hold up here because the offense has been leaving a lot to be desired. Backup QB Jack Turner was only 9-of-20 passing for 152 yards against UTEP last week, leading the Bulldogs to focus a lot more on running the football. They are averaging 4.7 yards per carry, but Tyre Shelton and Ketih Willis are ripping off more than eight and seven yards per attempt, respectively. We could get some points down in Ruston here if the ‘Tops can’t stop the run.
WKU’s prolific offense from last season hasn’t fully made it to 2023, as the Hilltoppers are actually getting outgained on a per-play basis by the Bulldogs, though Louisiana Tech hasn’t played Ohio State and that’s where the difference ultimately lies. The Hilltoppers only had 3.94 yards per play against the Buckeyes, so there may be some hidden value on WKU. On the other hand, averaging 5.81 yards per play against three other FBS foes is not what we’ve come to expect from this team.
I’ve been pretty low on LA Tech this season and feel like the Hilltoppers are still set up well to handle the conference. That being said, WKU’s defense has fallen off more than I expected and that’s something I am concerned about in this game. My Power Ratings suggest value on WKU and I will trust them here, but the defense will need to play better.
Pick: Western Kentucky -5.5