College Football Odds, Picks, Predictions for Western Kentucky vs. Marshall: Bet on Bailey Zappe and Hilltoppers?

College Football Odds, Picks, Predictions for Western Kentucky vs. Marshall: Bet on Bailey Zappe and Hilltoppers? article feature image

Andy Lyons/Getty Images. Pictured: Bailey Zappe.

  • The winner of this game between Western Kentucky and Marshall will head to the Conference USA title game.
  • Quarterback Bailey Zappe has molded into a fan favorite for the Hilltoppers this season.
  • Mike Ianniello previews the showdown and offers up his best bet.

Western Kentucky vs. Marshall Odds

Saturday, Nov. 27
3:30 p.m. ET
CBS Sports Network
Western Kentucky Odds
-115o / -105u
Marshall Odds
-115o / -105u
Odds via DraftKings. Get up-to-the-minute college football odds here.

In my UTSA vs. UAB article last week, I used the legendary Ric Flair quote, “To be the man, you’ve got to beat the man.”

Well, UTSA got it done, clinching the C-USA West division by knocking off defending champion UAB.

Now, Western Kentucky will have a chance to knock off the defending champ of the East Division in Marshall. The winner of Saturday’s game will head to the Conference USA Championship game against the Roadrunners.

Tyson Helton is in his third season with the Hilltoppers but has totally revamped their offensive system this year with much success. Marshall elected not to extend Doc Holliday but can still find itself back in the conference title game in its first year under Charles Huff.

Both of these teams are red-hot with Marshall winning five of its last six games and Western Kentucky coming out on top in six straight games.

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers

Bailey Zappe Leads Air Raid Offense

If you live under a rock and have not watched this Western Kentucky offense, boy, have you missed out.

Helton and the Hilltoppers went in and harvested the organs of FCS Houston Baptist, hiring away offensive coordinator Zach Kittley after a record-setting season.

Kittley brought with him star quarterback Bailey Zappe, and it's hard to put into words how awesome he has been. The FCS transfer leads the country with 421.8 yards per game. His 4,640 total passing yards are over 500 more than the next closest signal-caller.

Zappe’s 48 touchdown passes are 10 more than the next closest player, Alabama’s Bryce Young. Zappe has thrown at least three touchdowns in every single game this season and has at least four in the last four games. He has 11 touchdown passes in the last two games.

Bailey Zappe 👑 of deep bombs #CFB

— PFF College (@PFF_College) September 11, 2021

Three receivers also came over from Houston Baptist, headlined by Jerreth Sterns. Like with Zappe, the transition has been seamless, as Sterns lead the country with 137.4 receiving yards per game. He has hauled in a nation-leading 123 receptions and has 12 touchdown catches.

Mitchell Tinsley has also come on strong down the stretch, catching a touchdown in each of the last five games and totaling 362 yards and four touchdowns in the last two games.

Western Kentucky certainly took a risk with this Houston Baptist Air Raid offense, and it has worked to perfection, as the Hilltoppers lead the entire country in Success Rate.

WKU Defense Has Stepped Up After Slow Start

It's good the offense is as good as it is because the defense has been a bit of an issue. Western Kentucky’s defense has allowed 419.2 total yards per game, 95th in the country.

Defending the run has been especially difficult, as the Hilltoppers rank outside of the top 100 in both Rushing Success and Line Yards on the season.

The good thing is they have clearly shown signs of improvement as the season has gone on. Through the first five games, Western Kentucky went 1-4 and was allowing 38.4 points per game.

Then things started to click, and over its six-game winning streak, the defense has allowed just 18.5 points per game.

Last week, the Hilltoppers totally shut down Florida Atlantic in one of their best defensive performances of the season. They allowed just 301 total yards and held the Owls to 25 rushing yards on 26 attempts.

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Marshall Thundering Herd

Rasheen Ali Paces Impressive Rushing Attack

Huff has a long track record as a very successful running backs coach. He coached Saquon Barkley and Miles Sanders at Penn State, Kylin Hill at Mississippi State and Najee Harris at Alabama.

In his first season as a head coach, it's no surprise his star player is his running back. The Thundering Herd rank 40th in Rushing Success Rate this season behind stud running back Rasheen Ali.

The redshirt sophomore is averaging more than 100 yards per game and leads the country with 20 rushing touchdowns. He has scored multiple touchdowns in seven of his 11 games this year and is coming off a career-best 203-yard game with three touchdowns against Charlotte.

Quarterback Grant Wells might be one of the most frustrating players in the country, especially for gamblers.

The 2020 C-USA Freshman of the Year can look so good at times. He is second in the conference with 305.5 passing yards per game and has tossed 15 touchdowns.

But he also leads the conference with 12 interceptions and makes some really bad decisions.

Thundering Herd's Defense Has Been Dominant

For the second year in a row, Marshall sits with the best scoring defense in Conference USA. It has allowed just 20 points per game this year. Opponents have topped 21 points just once in the last six games.

The biggest area of weakness for the Thundering Herd is defending the run, ranking just 77th in Rush Success. Luckily, that shouldn’t matter much against the team with the second-lowest rushing rate in the country.

Where they have been strong is in defending the pass. They rank 34th in Passing Success rate, led by safety Nazeeh Johnson. His 81.4 coverage grade is 24th in the country and third in the conference.

Part of the reason the coverage is so good is they don’t need to cover for too long, thanks to the ninth-ranked pass rush. Linebackers Eli Neal and Abraham Beauplan both do a great job at getting into the backfield.

Western Kentucky vs. Marshall Matchup Analysis

Toggle the dropdowns below to hide or show how Western Kentucky and Marshall match up statistically:

Western Kentucky Offense vs. Marshall Defense
Rush Success10777
Line Yards4977
Pass Success134
Pass Blocking**439
Big Play4153
Finishing Drives1211
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Marshall Offense vs. Western Kentucky Defense
Rush Success40104
Line Yards71100
Pass Success4069
Pass Blocking**2977
Big Play3184
Finishing Drives4977
** Pass Blocking (Off.) vs. Pass Rush (Def.)

Pace of Play / Other
PFF Tackling6446
Middle 8510
SP+ Special Teams1495
Plays per Minute69
Rush Rate33.3% (129)47.1% (115)

Data via College Football Data, FootballOutsiders, SP+, PFF and SportSource Analytics.

Western Kentucky vs. Marshall Betting Pick

Western Kentucky and Marshall rank sixth and ninth in the country, respectively, in plays per minute. They both play at an extremely fast pace and should be able to move the ball on offense. T

hey also both rank outside of the top 100 in rush rate, each throwing the ball more than 50% of the time.

I do lean over here, but my best bet is with the Hilltoppers.

In a game that could be a shootout, few weapons have more firepower than Zappe and the Western Kentucky offense. The Marshall defense is good but does not have the horses to run with the Toppers, ranking just 49th in coverage grade.

A huge issue early on, Western Kentucky’s defense has been greatly improved over the second half of the season, and that unit is playing its best football right now.

The biggest strength for the Hilltoppers defense has been forcing turnovers. They have 18 interceptions this year, the second-most in the entire country. That could be an issue for Wells, who tends to make bad decisions, and has thrown 12 interceptions this year, the third-most in the country.

You cannot afford to make mistakes against this Western Kentucky offense, and the Hilltoppers improved defense will force Marshall into mistakes and do enough to limit the Herd on offense.

After that, Zappe will simply do Zappe things and lead WKU to the Conference USA Championship game.

Pick: Western Kentucky ML +105

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