Buckeyes (2-0) vs. Hilltoppers (2-0) Match-Up Preview | 9/16 4 PM EST.

September 15, 2023

Andy Billman

Gameday Preview Ohio State Buckeyes vs. Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

3 Things Preview For Saturday’s Game:

Buckeyes Prepare for Game 3 Against Western Kentucky on Saturday: 

1 – McCord Full-Time QB

It was named earlier this week that QB Kyle McCord will be the full-time quarterback moving forward for the Ohio State Buckeyes.

Head Coach Ryan Day talked about how his overall consistency was a significant factor in making him full-time. “I felt after the game his overall poise and consistency led us all to think Kyle’s the guy right now,” Day said.

Watching two games, Day made the right call.  Devin Brown has a lot of talent but needs more development before getting more playing time as a quarterback.  McCord will give Ohio State the best opportunity to win on Saturdays.  As for a Big Ten Championship or Playoff birth, McCord will need to perform better, and giving him the entire game against Western Kentucky makes sense so he can iron out some issues before heading to South Bend.

2 – Defense Leads the Way

While most Buckeye fans focus on offense, the defense is doing very well so far, ranking in the top five in three categories:  Tied second nationally for points allowed, 4th nationally in yards-per-game, and 4th in yard-per-play.

So far, no big yardage plays have been given up outside of one 39-yard pass against the Penguins.  The competition has not been great, and that will change, but so far, so good for the defense.

3 – Running Game

Like the passing game, the running game is a work in progress.  The running game overall was better last week, but it still feels like it needs to be put in high gear.  Day has selected TreVeyon Henderson to be the lead back and he did better last week, but Chip Trayanum needs to get more touches as he flashes big play ability.  

The Buckeyes are still having issues with short yardage on offense.  On 3rd and 3 or shorter, according to TruMedia, they have only converted twice out of eight in such situations.

The new offensive line is also a factor in why the running game has not rocketed off, so time spent playing together as a unit will help. 

Day is using the running game more this year, so this part of the offense will need to show improvement for the Buckeyes to be successful in 2023.

Ohio State Buckeyes Notes

The Ohio State Buckeyes, currently ranked sixth in the nation, have secured victories in their first two games of the season. Their campaign began with a conference triumph on the road against Indiana, where they defeated the Hoosiers with a score of 25-3. This success was followed by a 35-7 victory in their home opener last Saturday against Youngstown State. However, it’s worth noting that the Buckeyes failed to cover the spread in both of these games. Despite this, they displayed dominance against Youngstown State, amassing a total of 482 yards while allowing just 234 yards in return.

Quarterback Kyle McCord of the Buckeyes delivered an impressive performance, completing 14 out of 20 passes for 258 yards and three touchdowns, with no interceptions. McCord had been engaged in a fierce competition with Devin Brown, who threw for 101 yards, for the starting quarterback position. Coach Ryan Day of the Buckeyes officially announced McCord as the starting quarterback, stating, “We decided that Kyle is going to be the starter.” McCord’s primary target was Marvin Harrison Jr., who secured seven catches for 160 yards and two touchdowns, while Emeka Egbuika added five receptions for 94 yards and a touchdown. TreVeyon Henderson led the rushing attack with 56 yards on the ground, contributing two touchdowns.

As they prepare for their upcoming game on Saturday, Ohio State has seven players listed as questionable.

Ohio State Buckeyes Players to Watch and Stats

Buckeyes Players to Watch

  • Kyle McCord has thrown for 497 yards while completing 64.2% of his passes (34-of-53), with three touchdowns and one interception this year (248.5 yards per game).
  • TreVeyon Henderson has taken 17 attempts for a team-leading 103 rushing yards (51.5 yards per game) while scoring two touchdowns.
  • DeaMonte Trayanum has run for 77 yards on 14 carries (38.5 yards per game) this year.
  • This season Marvin Harrison Jr. has nine receptions for a team-high 178 receiving yards (89.0 per game) and two touchdowns.
  • Emeka Egbuka has also chipped in with eight receptions for 110 yards and one touchdown.
  • Cade Stover is averaging 98.0 yards per game, racking up five receptions for 98 yards.

Buckeyes Stats

  • Ohio State has put together a 0-2-0 record against the spread this season.
  • The Buckeyes have been favored by 29.5 points or more this season twice and failed to cover both times.
  • OSU has an average point total of 58.0 in their matchups this year, 8.0 fewer points than this game’s over/under.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Notes

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers have had a promising start to the season, boasting a 2-0 record thus far. Their season kicked off with an impressive 41-24 victory over South Florida, despite being favored by 13.5 points. In their most recent matchup, they faced off against Houston Christian, an FCS school, and cruised to a comfortable 52-22 win. However, they fell short of covering the 42.5-point spread. Surprisingly, Houston Christian put up a respectable fight against the heavily favored Hilltoppers, only trailing in total yards by 431 to 369, and maintaining a similar number of first downs. Western Kentucky’s decisive edge came from their 3-0 victory in the turnover battle.

Defensive Back Kendrick Simpkins, who forced a crucial fumble, commented, “We made some noteworthy defensive plays. I felt that as the game progressed, our energy waned a bit, and we didn’t sustain the same level of intensity throughout. Nevertheless, we certainly began the game with a burst of momentum.” Hilltoppers’ quarterback Austin Reed had an exceptional day, completing 27 out of 33 passes for 253 yards and four touchdowns, without throwing any interceptions. Backup quarterback Turner Helton also contributed with a touchdown pass. Wide receiver Easton Messer was a standout, catching nine passes for 116 yards and securing one touchdown, while Jimmy Holiday added four receptions for 62 yards and a touchdown. Markese Stepp led the Hilltoppers’ rushing attack with 48 yards. However, the availability of wide receiver Malachi Conley and defensive back Amaari Smith remains uncertain for Saturday’s upcoming game.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers Players to Watch and Stats

Hilltoppers Players to Watch

  • Austin Reed has passed for 589 yards while completing 67.5% of his throws (56-of-83), with six touchdowns and zero interceptions (294.5 yards per game). He’s also rushed seven times for 41 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 20.5 yards per game.
  • Davion Ervin-Poindexter has rushed for a team-high 78 yards on 15 carries (39.0 yards per game) and zero touchdowns.
  • Markese Stepp has run for 69 yards on 13 carries (34.5 yards per game), with one touchdown on the ground this year.
  • Easton Messer has 11 catches and paces his team with 134 receiving yards (67.0 ypg) while scoring one touchdown.
  • Dalvin Smith has also chipped in with nine receptions for 107 yards and one touchdown.
  • L’Christian Smith has caught eight passes for 88 yards and one touchdown, averaging 44.0 yards per game this year.

Hilltoppers Stats

  • Western Kentucky has won one game against the spread this season.
  • Western Kentucky games have gone over the point total once this year.
  • WKU’s contests this season have a 67.8-point average over/under, 1.8 more points than this game’s total.

Pick and Prediction

The Ohio State Buckeyes may have a 2-0 record, but they’ve struggled to meet the spread, going 0-2 in that regard. Their recent victory against Youngstown State, while a 35-7 win with impressive performances from Harrison and McCord, didn’t quite live up to expectations when facing an FCS opponent. Furthermore, their performance against Indiana wasn’t particularly outstanding.

On the other hand, Western Kentucky has shown strength, convincingly beating a solid South Florida team and dominating an FCS opponent. Considering the injuries at Ohio State and the now-resolved quarterback situation, this appears to be an excellent opportunity for Western Kentucky to cover the substantial spread. Therefore, it’s advisable to bet on Western Kentucky receiving the points.

Our Pick: Prediction – Ohio State will win, but will not cover the 29.5 points spread.  Final score 36-10.

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