Week Three Conference USA Roundup – Nobody Really Stands Out Yet, But the QB’s Are Interesting

This was a very mixed bag for the conference this week, but I guess what else is new, right? I think La Tech is the top team in the conference, but only just barely and there’s a number of teams on their tail. Let’s cruise through the action and talk like we have a clue what it all means, shall we?

THE GOOD

La Tech Silencing the WKU Home Crowd – J’Mar Smith may have found a new favorite target in Rhashid Bonnette, and the Bulldogs did just enough to snag a very important conference win against Western Kentucky on a last-second field goal. These are a couple of the best teams in the conference, so I wouldn’t worry as a Hilltopper fan, outside of generally being behind the curve and now needing some help from the rest of the conference to get back to the title game now.

FCS Domination – UTSA used 292 yards and four touchdowns through the air from Dalton Sturm in the first half to put away Southern and then go on cruise control, and FAU racked up 439 rushing yards against Bethune Cookman to put away an easy win. The Owls would have been done sooner had they not fumbled near the goal line on their opening drive and had Parr toss an interception late in the half, but things look very promising for the Fightin’ Kiffins.

THE BAD

The Late Fade – North Texas and UAB will face each other next week, and both seemed to fade late for very different reasons and with different results. North Texas showed some serious promise, especially in the defensive front seven, as they forced two fumbles on the first half and led 14-10 four minutes into the second half.

Unfortunately, the Iowa power run game gradually beat the defense down, resulting in only four second-half possessions for the offense. Those four possessions never got past the Hawkeye 40-yard line and the Mean Grean gradually slipped into a 31-14 loss.

UAB held on for a win, but they were very gradually worn down by an option offense and some serious heat. They also did themselves no favors by going ultra-conservative on offense after getting out to a 23-5 lead and pretty much ignored the short passing game that Coastal Carolina’s defense was giving them.

This will be an interesting matchup next week, as both defensive front sevens generate ridiculous pressure, but UAB has the running backs to take advantage of what was a relatively poor tackling defense for UNT.

Injuries 2, MTSU 0 – We knew that Brent Stockstill injured his shoulder against Syracuse, and bad enough that he needed to sit out against Minnesota. Unfortunately, it keeps getting worse. We watched the Blue Raiders produce only 230 yards of offense with John Urzua under center, then watched Richie James sprain his ankle and miss most of the rest of the game.

James is now uncertain for next week and the Raiders should be fine against an awful Bowling Green team next week. But now we find out Stockstill has a cracked sternum and a dislocated collarbone, which means he will miss at least one more game, and who knows how much more. This does not bode well for the continued existence of “conference title favorite Middle Tennessee.” But I guess it maybe increased the odds that these two return next year?

THE UGLY

The Bottom Falls Out – It’s nothing new for the bottom of the conference to be clearly less good than the rest, but this is getting ridiculous.

UTEP has played three games, and their best performance has been a home game where they let Rice into the red zone seven times in 10 drives and didn’t score their first point until the 3:47 mark of the third quarter. The Miners have been outscored 17-7 in the first quarter and 63-9 in the second quarter.

They scored a touchdown on their very first drive of the season. They’ve had 33 offensive drives since then, scored four touchdowns, and had only two other drives that even crossed midfield. Injuries are everywhere, and things aren’t going to get better any time soon.

Charlotte got outscored 79-14 in their first two games, but they had at least the marginal excuse of facing an improved Eastern Michigan and a Kansas State team that is clearly not in their league. However, their touchdown on the last play of the third quarter yesterday was the beginning of a 21-7 run to close out the game… and they still lost 35-31, because they trailed by three scores at the beginning of that run. North Carolina A&T is no slouch of an FCS program, but Charlotte needed an offensive surge late just to make the loss less ugly.

Benny LeMay racked up 158 rushing yards, and Hasaan Klugh has rushed for 189 yards of his own so far this season. But this week was his best passing game yet, and he was only 13-for-29 for 170 yards, three touchdowns, and two interceptions.

For the season, Klugh has completed 43% of his passes for 317 yards and has already tossed five interceptions. That kind of pass game production won’t ruin them against Georgia State or FIU necessarily, but that’s it for the “easy” part of their schedule.

Rice hasn’t been a whole lot better. They’re 1-2 right now, but that’s mostly because of the aforementioned game against UTEP. TO be fair, we know a lot less about the Owls than we do anybody else. We know that they’re good enough to beat a team like UTEP, which makes it a shame they don’t play Charlotte, and that they’re nowhere near good enough to hang with Stanford or Houston.

Thing is, most of the teams left on Rice’s schedule are in the vast chasm between those talent levels. Perhaps they’re good enough to beat FIU, but for now they’re just “the best team not named UTEP or Charlotte.”

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