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Western Kentucky Hilltoppers quarterback Bailey Zappe (4) rolls out of the pocket and looks for a receiver. (Photo by Adam Ruff/Icon Sportswire)
December 13th, 2021
One of the most prolific passers in college football will step onto the national stage on Saturday, Dec. 18 when Bailey Zappe and the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers take on the Appalachian State Mountaineers in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Western Kentucky is 8-5 straight-up and 9-4 against the spread this year, while Appalachian State is 10-3 straight-up, and 8-5 against the spread. Both teams are coming off a loss in their respective conference championship games.
Let's dig into this matchup, beginning with the latest betting odds.
The key to this game will be what happens when the potent Western Kentucky offense faces the powerful Appalachian State defense.
Zappe absolutely aired it out this season. His 5,545 passing yards were 1,000 more than the second highest passer, Will Rogers. His 56 passing touchdowns also led the country, and were 13 more than Heisman Trophy winner Bryce Young.
BAILEY ZAPPE WAS ON THE MONEY WITH THIS THROW 😭 https://t.co/Ae3Z1X5KHq— PFF College (@PFF_College) December 4, 2021
BAILEY ZAPPE WAS ON THE MONEY WITH THIS THROW 😭 https://t.co/Ae3Z1X5KHq
Offense wasn't the issue in Western Kentucky’s four losses this season. They began the season with three losses in Weeks 2 through 4, but still scored 35, 31, and 31 points in those defeats. Considering they were against Michigan State and Indiana, those performances look far better in hindsight. Even in their conference championship loss to UTSA, Western Kentucky still scored 41 behind 577 yards and four touchdowns from Zappe.
Bailey Zappe drops a dime to Jerreth Sterns for the 50 yard gain. Western Kentucky would score later in the drive with a Kye Robichaux rush. The Toppers converted the 2 point attempt as well. WKU is only down 8 👀.WESTERN KENTUCKY 34UTSA 42 https://t.co/lfSqG677aB— Brendan Moore (@bmoorecfb) December 4, 2021
Bailey Zappe drops a dime to Jerreth Sterns for the 50 yard gain. Western Kentucky would score later in the drive with a Kye Robichaux rush. The Toppers converted the 2 point attempt as well. WKU is only down 8 👀.WESTERN KENTUCKY 34UTSA 42 https://t.co/lfSqG677aB
Western Kentucky will now face a Mountaineers defense that is 17th in the nation in yards allowed per play, and sixth in opposing quarterback completion percentage. It also has a stellar 8.4% sack percentage rate and allowed just 19.3 points per game in 2021.
If Western Kentucky is going to potentially pull off the upset, Zappe will need to have one of his best performances of the year by playing up to his seasonal averages.
When two teams from different conferences meet up in the postseason, I prefer to give added weight to the stronger offense. Defense tends to have an advantage early in the season when offenses aren’t in sync or when they have familiarity with the opposing teams’ players or strategies.
By this point in the season, the offenses, especially Western Kentucky’s, are motoring along at full speed. The Hilltoppers have scored 47.2 points per game over their last five games, and Zappe is clearly in rhythm with receiver Jerreth Sterns.
Appalachian State has a very strong defense, but this is going to be the most unique offense they’ve faced all year. This program has struggled in recent years against opponents from Conference USA, and I don’t expect them to have an answer for one of the nation’s most prolific passers.
Score prediction: Western Kentucky 40, Appalachian State 37
Our predictive engine is calling for Appalachian State to win outright.
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