Thursday, November 30, 2023
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CFB-FBS: Conference USA Week 6 Release

UPCOMING GAMES (ALL TIMES CT)
WEDNESDAY, OCTOBER 4
Jax State at MTSU (ESPNU) 7 p.m.
FIU at New Mexico State (CBSSN) 8 p.m.

THURSDAY, OCTOBER 5
Sam Houston at Liberty (CBSSN) 6 p.m.
WKU at LA Tech (ESPNU) 7 p.m.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK, PRESENTED BY BLENDERS EYEWEAR (WEEK 5)

OFFENSE
QB LOGAN SMOTHERS, JAX STATE
Junior, Muscle Shoals, Alabama
After struggling through a first half that saw his Gamecocks fall behind 21-7 at Sam Houston on Thursday night, Smothers turned it on after the half to lead Jax State to a thrilling win. After the half, Smothers was 13-16 passing for 181 yards and three touchdowns, while also running the ball seven times for 17 yards and a score. He threw a 37-yard score to Michael Pettway to make it a 21-14 game and then scampered in from 16 yards out to cut the deficit to 21-20 midway through the fourth quarter. Facing a 28-20 deficit with 1:11 to play, Smothers drove the Gamecocks 75 yards in eight plays and just 58 seconds, going 6-8 passing for 75 yards with a 28-yard touchdown strike to Perry Carter with 11 seconds to play. That set up his scramble and pass to find Quinton Lane in the back of the end zone on the two-point conversion that sent
the game into overtime, when he connected with tight end Sean Brown on a 24-yard scoring pass that ended up being the game winner.

DEFENSE
LB BRYSON WASHINGTON, WKU
Redshirt Senior, Louisville, Kentucky
Washington, a sixth-year linebacker at WKU, made the most of his first start with the program in WKU’s 31-10 win over Middle Tennessee on Thursday at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Washington posted seven tackles, had two pass breakups, recorded one interception and came away with one Fumble recovery in the victory to lead the defensive effort against the Blue Raiders.

SPECIAL TEAMS
PR, SMOKE HARRIS, LA TECH
Redshirt Senior, St. Francisville, Louisiana
Harris returned a punt 67 yards for a touchdown during the first quarter of the Bulldogs’ 24-10 win at UTEP on Friday. His punt return touchdown was the first by a LA Tech player since Teddy Veal accomplished the feat on Sept. 2, 2017, in a win over Northwestern State. As a result of Harris’ efforts, Tech snapped a 16-game road losing streak as the Bulldogs’ victory over UTEP was the first road win since Dec. 3, 2020.

QUICK HITTERS
A LOOK AT WEEK 6
Eight Conference USA teams are in action in Week 6, as midweek conference matchups take center stage in front of a national television audience with a pair of doubleheaders on Wednesday and Thursday, respectively. Jax State (4-1, 2-0 CUSA) travels to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee (1-4, 0-1 CUSA) on Wednesday night at 7 p.m. CT on ESPNU. The Gamecocks enter play following a thrilling 35-28 overtime comeback victory at Sam Houston last week, and look to stay unbeaten in league play. Middle Tennessee fell 31-10 on the road last week in its rivalry game at WKU and are looking to get the season back on track.

Also on Wednesday night, FIU (3-2, 0-2 CUSA) makes the long journey to Las Cruces, New Mexico, to battle New Mexico State (2-3, 0-1 CUSA) at 8 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network. Both teams were off last week, and both are looking to rebound following losses their last time out. FIU was beaten 38-6 at Liberty, while New Mexico State fell 20-17 at Hawai’i back in Week 4.

Thursday night’s action gets underway at 6 p.m. CT in Lynchburg, Virginia, as Liberty (4-0, 2-0 CUSA) hosts fellow league newcomer Sam Houston (0-4, 0-1 CUSA) on CBS Sports Network. Liberty was off last week, but won 38-6 at home over FIU back in Week 4, while Sam Houston dropped a heartbreaker at home in its inaugural league contest, falling 35-28 in overtime to Jax State.

The fourth and final CUSA game of the week kicks off on Thursday night at 7 p.m. CT, as WKU (3-2, 1-0 CUSA) travels to Ruston, Louisiana, to take on LA Tech (3-3, 2-0 CUSA) on ESPNU in a battle of conference unbeatens. WKU dispatched of rival Middle Tennessee 31-10 last week at home, while LA Tech ended its 16-game road winless streak with a 24-10 triumph in El Paso over UTEP.

2023 ROUND ROBIN SCHEDULE
Conference USA’s nine-team configuration in 2023 allows for a true round robin schedule format to decide the participants of the CUSA Championship game on Friday, Dec. 1.

NEW FACES IN CUSA
With four new teams in Conference USA in 2023, that means the league has four new head coaches: Rich Rodriguez is in year two at Jacksonville State, Jamey Chadwell is in the first year of his tenure at Liberty, Jerry Kill is in his second year at New Mexico State and K.C. Keeler is in his 10th season at Sam Houston

2023 MIDWEEK SCHEDULE
Conference USA’s new television deal with partners CBS Sports Network and ESPN, features a new midweek scheduling model for beginning this fall. 19 CUSA games will take place on weeknights throughout the month of October, enhancing linear exposure for the league and its programs.

REED ALL ABOUT IT!
WKU QB Austin Reed has opened his 2023 season by completing 131-212 passes for 1,368 yards with 11 touchdowns and two interceptions, while also carrying 23 times for 67 yards and three additional scores. He was 30-52 for 297 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing) and one interception in last week’s win at home over rival Middle Tennessee. Reed enters Week 6 ranking seventh nationally in completions per game (26.20), 16th in passing touchdowns (11), 16th in points responsible for (86), 19th in points responsible per game (17.2), 24th in passing
yards (1,368), 25th in passing yards per game (273.6) and 30th in total offense per game (287.0).

SALTER KEEPS DOMINATING
Liberty QB Kaidon Salter has had a tremendous start to his 2023 season for the 4-0 Flames. The sophomore has completed 53-92 passes for 919 yards with 11 touchdowns and one interception, while also carrying 47 times for 268 yards and five more touchdowns. He was named CUSA Offensive Player of the Week for the second consecutive week in Week 4, completing 11-21 passes for 156 yards, two passing touchdowns and an interception to go along with nine carries for 77 yards and another two scores in the league win at FIU, 38-6 on Sept. 23. Through Week 5 of the season, Salter ranks second nationally in points responsible for per game (24.0) behind only last year’s Heisman Trophy winner, Caleb Williams. Salter is fourth in passing yards per completion (17.34), eighth in total points responsible for (96), 13th in passing efficiency (178.8), 16th in passing touchdowns (11), 17th in yards per pass attempt (9.99), 24th in rushing touchdowns (five) and 27th in total offense per game (296.8).

TACKLING MACHINES
Through Week 5 of the season, CUSA boasts three of the top-11 and five of the top-27 in the country in tackles per game.

  1. Tyrice Knight, LB, UTEP 12.7
  2. Trevor Williams, Sam Houston 12.0
  3. Donovan Manuel, LB, FIU 10.8
  4. Myles Heard, DB, LA Tech 10.0
  5. Tyren Dupree, LB, Liberty 9.2

WHY THE RUSH?
Liberty enters Week 6 ranking second in the country in rushing offense, averaging 271.2 yards per game, trailing just Air Force for the national lead. Jax State ranks eighth in FBS at 224.4 yards per game.

HOT TAKE(AWAYS)
Liberty enters Week 6 tied as the national leader in interceptions (with Oklahoma), as the Flames have a total of 10 through its first four games of the season. Liberty’s 12 turnovers forced is also best in the nation. WKU leads the nation in takeaways with 14, while Jax State is ninth with 11 (and ranks third nationally in interceptions with eight).

ON THE (TURNOVER) MARGINS
Entering Week 6 Liberty is third in turnover margin in the FBS at +1.75 per game. Jax State and WKU are both tied for seventh nationally (+1.40 per game). The Flames, Hilltoppers and Gamecocks are each +7 for the season.

PROTECTIVE
Jax State enters Week 6 tied for 18th nationally in turnovers lost, with just four turnovers lost through the first five games of the season. The Gamecocks and Liberty are each tied for fifth nationally with just one interception thrown apiece.

RECOVERY IS KEY
WKU is tied for the national lead in fumble recoveries entering Week 6, with eight. FIU isn’t far behind, ranking seventh nationally with five.

LA TECH PICKS UP ROAD CUSA WIN, 24-10
LA Tech (3-3, 2-0 CUSA) snapped a 16-game road losing streak that dated back to 2020 (a 42-31 win at North Texas on Dec. 3, 2020) with a 24-10 league win at UTEP (1-5, 0-2 CUSA) on Friday night. Bulldogs RB Tyre Shelton carried 16 times for 104 yards and a touchdown in the win, which moved LA Tech into a three-way tie atop the CUSA standings at 2-0. DB Myles Heard led the way for the Bulldogs with a team-high 10 tackles, as the LA Tech defense held the Miners to just three second half points and 10 overall, the third time this season that UTEP has scored 10 or fewer.

JAX STATE COMPLETES WILD COMEBACK
Jax State (4-1, 2-0 CUSA) stormed back to shock Sam Houston (0-4, 0-1 CUSA) 35-28 in overtime in Huntsville on Thursday night. The Gamecocks trailed 28-20 with 1:11 to play and with no timeouts, marched 75 yards in eight plays in just 58 seconds to tie the game and force overtime, courtesy of a Logan Smothers 28-yard touchdown pass to WR Perry Carter with 13 seconds remaining. Smothers then hit TE Quinton Lane in the back of the end zone for the game-tying two-point conversion. To open overtime, Smothers connected with TE Sean Brown on a 24-yard touchdown that ended up being the difference in a wild win for Jax State in Huntsville. Smothers finished 16-28 for 197 yards and four total touchdowns (three passing) with no interceptions. RB Malik Jackson carried 13 times for 129 yards and a score in the win as well. Defensively, S Fred Perry finished with a game-high 14 tackles (12 solo) and a tackle for loss, while LB Quae Drake recorded 10 stops with 2.5 tackles for loss in The win. The Bearkats entered play averaging just 3.3 points per game, scoring 10 total points through its first three games, and exploded for 21 points in the first half, but despite a late touchdown that put them up eight in the final 1:11, it wasn’t enough as they fell at home
in their first-ever CUSA contest.

WKU WINS FIFTH STRAIGHT OVER MTSU
WKU (3-2, 1-0 CUSA) opened league play with a comfortable 31-10 win in the 73rd edition of the rivalry dubbed “100 Miles of Hate” over Middle Tennessee (1-4, 0-1 CUSA). It marked the Hilltoppers’ fifth-consecutive win in the series dating back to 2019, and now lead the overall series 37-35-1. QB Austin Reed completed 30-52 passes for 297 yards with three total touchdowns (two passing and one rushing) and one interception in the win. He completed passes to 11 different receivers, who were led by Malachi Corley, who hauled in eight catches for 81 yards. Defensively the #TakeawayTops forced three more turnovers and individually were led by DB Takulve Williams, who finished with a game-high 12 tackles, a half tackle for loss and an interception.

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