The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers travel to Mobile, Alabama to take on the Georgia State Panthers in the 22nd annual LendingTree Bowl on Saturday, December 26. Western Kentucky ended the season with a losing record, but won their last three games of the season. They last played on Sunday, December 6, beating the Charlotte 49ers by a score of 37-19. Georgia State won their last two games of the season. It will be exactly four weeks since they will have played their last game, as they defeated Georgia Southern, 30-24 on November 28 to close the regular season.
The Hilltoppers are 3-7-1 against the spread this season, while the over-under is 6-5. Western Kentucky was a 2.5-point underdog in their last game versus Charlotte. The Panthers are 6-3 against the spread this season, while the over-under is also 6-5. They have covered the spread in each of their last three games. Georgia State was a three-point favorite in their last game against Georgia Southern.
(Late line movements and injury reports were updated on Friday evening.)
The line has stayed relatively stable for this contest as the week has gone on. Georgia State opened as a four-point favorite when the lines came out and, as of Friday, now is favored by 3.5 or four points at the majority of sportsbooks for this contest. 54 percent of the bets ATS are backing the Panthers and giving the points as they look to earn the victory in the First Responder Bowl.
The total for this contest has dropped somewhat during this week. After opening at 60 points, the total has slipped down to 55.5 or 56 points, depending on your sportsbook of choice. A hefty majority, 76 percent, of the bets on the total are expecting this contest to still end up falling short of the mark.
Game-time Weather: It’s going to be a decent afternoon for the day after Christmas in the Yellowhammer State. Temperatures at kickoff will be in the low-50s under sunny skies. The mercury will drop down into the mid-40s during the game with no chance of precipitation in the forecast. Winds are expected from the southwest around five miles an hour with the wind gusts kicking up to about six miles per hour during the game.
Hilltoppers look to even record with a Bowl winThe Western Kentucky Hilltoppers will try to end their season on a positive note and finish with a .500 record with a win in the LendingTree Bowl. Western Kentucky has been a member of the FBS since 2009, and this is their seventh appearance in a bowl game, all of which have come in the last nine seasons. The only seasons that didn’t end in a bowl game for the Hilltoppers since 2012 have been 2013 and 2018. Western Kentucky defeated Western Michigan in the ServPro First Responders Bowl last season by a score of 23-20. The Hilltoppers are 4-2 in their previous six bowl appearances.
“To be able to sit here today and be able to go to the LendingTree Bowl, have one more opportunity to try to go get a win and send our guys off right, that’s pretty special,” head coach Tyson Helton said on bgdailynews.com. “We’re excited for that opportunity, our guys are excited for that opportunity and it’s a result of all the hard work everybody’s put in this year.”
Western Kentucky began the 2020 season by winning just one of their first five games and two of their first eight games before turning it around in their final three games. Their first three wins of the season were all by three points, but the Hilltoppers have won their last two games by an average of 17.5 points per game. In their regular-season finale, quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome had his best game of the season, as he completed two-thirds of his passes for a season-high 218 yards and a touchdown. He also had 60 yards rushing in the game, his third-highest rushing total of the season. Pigrome has not had a great season throwing the ball, completing just 58.3% of his passes, but he has not thrown an interception in 264 passing attempts this season. Pigrome has thrown nine touchdown passes and has a team-high three rushing touchdowns.
Gaej Walker leads the Western Kentucky running game with 614 yards and has a 4.5 yards per carry average. The Hilltoppers have 1,408 yards rushing as a team this season. Mitchell Tinsley leads the receiving corps with 42 catches and four touchdowns, while Xavier Lane has a team-leading 376 yards receiving this season. Lane is questionable for the bowl game with a knee injury. Kicker Brayden Narveson has been almost perfect this season. He is 24-24 on extra points and 13-14 on field goal attempts with his only miss being from beyond 50 yards.
Western Kentucky has one of the worst offenses in college football this season, as they rank 114th in points scored per game (18.8), 120th in yards per game (291.6), and 111th in passing yards per game (164.0). Their defense has been pretty good this season, as they are giving up just 24.1 points per game, 336.0 yards per game (24th in FBS) and just 170.1 passing yards per game (eighth).
Western Kentucky Injury Report:
No Injuries Reported.
Panthers play in second straight bowl game
“I’m so proud of our players for their commitment and hard work to persevere through this season and earn our fourth bowl berth,” head coach Shawn Elliott said on ajc.com. “We talk about doing things for the first time and back-to-back bowl games is another first for our program.”
Georgia State ended the season with a pair of wins to even up their conference record at 4-4. They won three of their last four games with their only loss in that span coming at the hands of Appalachian State by four points. Their other three losses were to two ranked opponents (Louisiana and Coastal Carolina) and to Arkansas State in a shootout, 59-52.
Freshman Cornelius Brown IV is peaking at the right time, as he has had two of the best games of his young career in the last two games. In the penultimate game of the regular season against South Alabama, Brown IV completed 67.9% of his passes for 334 yards, but he did throw three interceptions. In the season finale, he completed 71.8% of his passes for a career-high 372 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. His completion percentage and yardage total over the last two games has been his best two games in those categories this season. For the season, Brown IV has completed 59.1% of his passes for 2,046 yards, 14 touchdowns, and nine interceptions. He has also rushed for 261 yards and a team-high seven touchdowns.
The Panthers have had an excellent running game this season, averaging over 190 yards rushing, led by Destin Coates with 652 yards on the ground. Tucker Gregg has rushed for 441 yards this season. Both Coates and Gregg have six rushing touchdowns. Sam Pinckney has been their top receiver this season, catching 44 passes for 753 yards and six touchdowns.
Georgia State is being outscored by an average of 32.9-32.7 this season. They are averaging 417.7 yards per game, while they are giving up 424.3 yards per game. The Panthers are ranked 118th in pass defense, giving up 284.0 yards per game through the air.
Georgia State Injury Report:
No Injuries Reported.
Trends found on oddsshark.com:
- The Panthers are 6-3 ATS in their last nine games overall
- The Panthers are 6-2 ATS in their last eight games played on a Saturday
- The Hilltoppers are 3-7-1 ATS in their last 11 games overall
- The Hilltoppers are 1-5 ATS in their last six games versus a Sun Belt opponent