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CFB: Week 5 Conference Notes: Conference USA (C-USA)

UPCOMING GAMES (ALL TIMES CT)
FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 30
UTSA at Middle Tennessee (CBSSN) 6:30 pm

SATURDAY, OCTOBER 1
Florida Atlantic at North Texas (ESPN+) 3 pm

UTEP at Charlotte (ESPN3) 5 pm

Troy at WKU (ESPN+) 6 pm

UAB at Rice (ESPN+) 6:30 pm

FIU at New Mexico State (FLO Sports) 7 pm

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK, PRESENTED BY BLENDERS EYEWEAR (WEEK 4)
OFFENSE
QB CHASE CUNNINGHAM, MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Redshirt Senior, Knoxville, Tennessee
Cunningham keyed Middle Tennessee’s first-ever win over a ranked opponent by throwing for a career-high 408 yards on just 16 completions (25.5 yards a completion). It went down as sixth-most passing yards in a game at MTSU and just the eighth 400-yard game in school history. Cunningham had completions of 98, 89, 71 and 69 yards, with the 98-yarder matching the longest in program history. Cunningham’s yards per completion mark was 25.5 and the NCAA single game record is 22.9, but the minimum cutoff is 22 completions, so Cunningham fell just short of an NCAA record. Cunningham also ran for an additional 29 yards and another touchdown in the win.

DEFENSE
DL ZAYLIN WOOD, MIDDLE TENNESSEE
Redshirt Sophomore, Bowdon, Georgia Wood, who was also named the Walter Camp National Defensive Player of the Week, was instrumental in leading a defense that wreaked havoc on the Miami Hurricanes all day and held them to just 60 rushing yards. Wood had a career-best two sacks to go with 2.0 tackles for loss, a fumble recovery and an interception he batted in the air, grabbed, and returned 15 yards for a touchdown in the opening quarter. It was his second career interception, but his first-ever defensive touchdown (caught a pass for a TD on offense in 2021)..

SPECIAL TEAMS
PR, MARCUS BELLON, UTEP
Sophomore, Truckee, California
Bellon changed the momentum of the game when he returned a punt 47 yards to pay dirt for a touchdown, giving UTEP a 10-point lead in the third quarter during the Miners’ 27-10 upset victory against Boise State on Friday night. For Bellon, it was his first career touchdown for the Miners, while it was UTEP’s first punt return for a touchdown since Sept. 19, 2015 at NM State. Overall, Bellon tallied two returns for 57 yards.

QUICK HITTERS
A LOOK AT WEEK 5
For the fourth straight week, 10 of the 11 Conference USA teams are in action in Week 5, including four league matchups. There is one game on Friday night, as Middle Tennessee hosts UTSA, and a five-game slate for Saturday, which includes three additional conference matchups – between Florida Atlantic and North Texas, UTEP and Charlotte and UAB and Rice. Louisiana Tech is on its lone bye of the 2022 season this week.

Middle Tennessee (3-1, 0-0 C-USA), fresh off its upset win over No. 25 Miami last week, returns home to host UTSA (2-2, 0-0 C-USA) on Friday night at 6:30 p.m. CT on CBS Sports Network. Middle has won three consecutive games and is hitting its stride heading into the conference opener for the Blue Raiders and Roadrunners. MTSU was dominant in its 45-31 win in South Beach, and the Blue Raiders have scored an average of 42.7 points per game over the past three weeks. UTSA, the defending C-USA champion, concluded its non-conference slate with a 52-24 win at home over Texas Southern.

Saturday’s five-game schedule opens at 3 p.m. CT in Denton, Texas, as North Texas (2-3, 1-0 C-USA) hosts Florida Atlantic (2-3, 1-0 C-USA) on ESPN+. UNT fell in a hard-fought game at Memphis last week, 44-34, while FAU dropped a heartbreaker on the road at Purdue, 28-26, as their upset bid fell just short. This is the lone league game between teams with 1-0 conference records this week.

UTEP (2-3, 0-1 C-USA) travels across the country to take on Charlotte (1-4, 0-1 C-USA) at 5 p.m. CT on ESPN3. The Miners picked up a huge win last week, dismantling Boise State 27-10 in El Paso on Friday night, while Charlotte fell 56-20 at South Carolina.

The 49ers held a late 14-10 first half lead in Columbia before turnovers did them in in the second half. Both teams dropped their conference openers back in Week 0 and are each looking to take a major step forward in C-USA play with a win this week in Charlotte.

WKU (3-1) remains home this week in a non-conference affair with Sun Belt foe Troy (2-2) Saturday night in Bowling Green at 6 p.m. CT on ESPN+. WKU hung 73 points last week in its conference lid-lifter against FIU, shutting out the Panthers, while Troy picked up a big league win, knocking off Marshall 16-7 at home. This is the final head-to-head matchup between C-USA and the Sun Belt, with the leagues splitting the first six matchups thus far.

UAB (2-1, 0-0 C-USA) travels to Houston to do battle with Rice (2-2, 0-0 C-USA) at 6:30 p.m. CT on ESPN+ in the final league contest of the weekend. UAB is coming off its lone bye of 2022 after beating Georgia Southern in Week 3 (35-21), while Rice fell 34-27 in the Battle for the Bayou Bucket to conclude its nonconference schedule. The Owls held a 27-24 lead midway through the fourth quarter, but were undone by a pair of turnovers on their final two drives, which allowed Houston to tie and then take the lead in the final 5:18.

The final game of the night on Saturday pits FIU (1-2) against future C-USA member New Mexico State (1-4) at 7 p.m. CT in Las Cruces on Flo TV. FIU dropped its C-USA opener 73-0 at WKU, while New Mexico State picked up its first win of the Jerry Kill era, as the Aggies dispatched of visiting Hawai’i, 45-26.

MIDDLE PICKS UP TOP-25 WIN AT MIAMI
Middle Tennessee (3-1) shocked No. 25 Miami with a 45-31 win at Hard Rock Stadium, picking up the program’s first-ever win over a ranked opponent. The Blue Raiders jumped all over the Hurricanes early, opening up a 24-3 lead, and the Blue Raider defense forced four turnovers, including a pick-six by DL Zaylin Wood. Wood recorded the interception, a pair of sacks and recovered a fumble for the Blue Rairders. QB Chase Cunningham completed 16-25 passes for 408 yards and three touchdowns, scores of 98, 71 and 69, while also carrying for 29 yards and another score. Middle Tennessee averaged 8.3 yards per play (25.5 yards per completion), tallying 507 yards of total offense against Miami.

UTEP DOMINATES BOISE STATE, 27-10
UTEP (2-3) picked up the program’s first-ever win over Boise State in the pair’s seventh all-time meeting, knocking off the Broncos 27-10 in El Paso on Friday night in front of a national audience. The Miners outgained the Broncos 322-177 and dominated time of possession, controlling the ball for 40:35 compared to 19:25. UTEP ran for 199 yards on a defense that held its past two opponents to a combined 51 yards on the ground.QB Gavin Hardison completed 10-11 passes for 123 yards with a touchdown and no interceptions, while also picking up 20 yards on the ground. LB Cal Wallerstedt led the way for the Miners defensively with nine takcles, a half tackle for loss, a pass break-up and a quarterback hurry in the win. Conference USA teams finish the regular season 3-2 against Mountain West opposition with the Miners’ win on Friday night.

WKU OPENS C-USA PLAY WITH A BANG
WKU (3-1, 1-0 C-USA) opened conference play with a 73-0 win over FIU (1-2, 0-1 C-USA) Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green. The 73 points scored were tied for the third-most in a single game in C-USA history, while the 73 point margin of victory was one point off the conference record in any game (North Texas knocked off Nicholls State 77-3 on Sept. 20, 2014), but the largest in league history during a conference contest. QB Austin Reed finished his day early, but still completed 29-35 passes for 381 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions in the win. WKU rolled up 688 yards of total offense in the victory. The #TakeoverTops, who entered play this week ranked second in the country in turnovers forced, created two more in the win.

CLARK, UTSA ROLLS TEXAS SOUTHERN
UTSA (2-2) handled its business Saturday afternoon, knocking off Texas Southern 52-24 in the Alamodome. WR De’Corian Clark led the way offensively for the Roadrunners, as he hauled in nine catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns. QB Frank Harris was excellent again Saturday – completing 20-31 passes for 392 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions, while also adding 31 yards and another score on the ground.

RICE UPSET BID FALLS JUST SHORT AT HOUSTON IN RIVALRY GAME
Rice (2-2) fell just short in the Battle for the Bayou Bucket, 34-27 at Houston. The Owls had a chance to potentially tie things up with one final play from the Houston nine-yard line, but it ultimately fell incomplete. WRs Luke McCaffrey (seven catches for 121 yards and a touchdown) and Bradley Rozner (five catches for 123 yards) were strong for the Owls’ aerial attack. Defensively, LB Chris Conti led the way
for Rice, recording a team-high 11 tackles, including one for loss.

WESTER’S THREE-TD DAY NOT ENOUGH AS FAU FALLS 28-26 AT PURDUE
Florida Atlantic (2-3) had an opportunity to pick up a big win on the road at a Big Ten opponent, but ultimately fell 28-26 at Purdue. WR LaJohntay Wester certainly made an impact – hauling in nine catches for 90 yards and three touchdowns. QB N’Kosi Perry completed 18-30 passes for 230 yards with three scores, while also adding 93 yards on the ground on 13 carries in a losing effort.

MTSU’S WOOD NAMED WALTER CAMP DEFENSIVE POTW
Middle Tennessee DL Zaylin Wood’s performance in the win last week at No. 25 Miami earned the Blue Raider redshirt sophomore Walter Camp Defensive Player of the Week honors after recording 2.0 sacks, 2.0 tackles for loss, an interception returned for a touchdown and a fumble recovery.

HARRIS LEADS FBS IN TOTAL OFFENSE
UTSA QB Frank Harris leads the FBS in total offense (368.0 yards per game). The redshirt senior ranks sixth nationally in passing yards per game (327.5). Harris is also ninth nationally in completions per game (26.0).

TAKEAWAYTOPS

WKU enters Week 5 is second nationally in turnovers forced (13 in four games), behind just USC and Coastal Carolina, who have 14 each. The Hilltoppers are fourth nationally in interceptions with eight. WKU has brought three of their 13 forced turnovers back for touchdowns, which is tied for most in the FBS.

ROADRUNNER WR TRIO SHOWING OUT
UTSA may have the best receiving trio in the nation – as WRs De’Corian Clark, Joshua Cephus and Zakhari Franklin are each within the top-15 in receiving yards per game (104.2, 103.0 and 98.2, respectively) and have combined for 12 touchdowns. Clark hauled in nine catches for 217 yards and three touchdowns, Cephus caught five passes for 114 yards and a score and Franklin had six catches for 87 yards and a touchdown last week in the win over Texas Southern.

Mikey Balhan Sports

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