Two of the Western Kentucky football team's most glaring problems have been turnovers and red zone offense.

Those areas have been poor overall and deadly in four defeats this season. The numbers aren't lost on those involved.

With a 78.3 conversion rate in red zone opportunities, which are possessions inside the opponents' 20-yard line, the Hilltoppers (4-4, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) are tied for 90th in the nation in that category and fifth among SBC teams.

That percentage drops by 6 percent (18-for-25) in the team's four losses. WKU has only nine red zone touchdowns in those games.

"Taking those long drives for three points – I mean, points are always good, but taking long drives, you've got to get touchdowns," junior wide receiver Willie McNeal said. "It's pointless going all the way down and just getting field goals."

Sophomore kicker Garrett Schwettman has been good, making 11 of his 13 field goal tries. But when considering the Tops have the nation's 24th best offense at 480.6 yards per game, coach Bobby Petrino's players should be crossing into the end zone more times than crossing past Schwettman as they trot off the field on fourth down.

"Well, when you watch the video from the Troy game (a 32-26 loss Saturday), we did a lot of good things," Petrino said. "What really hurt us was our inability to score touchdowns. We drove the ball, we moved it, we converted third downs, we made big plays, big plays that did not result in touchdowns. That is something that we have to be able to do, is convert to touchdowns.

"We have a lot of plays there. Even when we think we have a touchdown, we stepped out of bounds, or got called for stepping out of bounds. There's just a number of plays where we can't get the ball in the end zone."

While WKU is 12th nationally in average time of possession at 33:14, that's not a stat Petrino seems particularly fond of.

While former WKU coach Willie Taggart preferred to drain the clock and assert his offense onto the opponent, Petrino would rather score quickly and often in order to put pressure on his foes to respond quickly, thus getting away from their own gameplans.

The Hilltopper offense averages 8.4 plays before putting points on the board this season and only six times has a scoring drive lasted less than two minutes.

"Some of the things that hurt us offensively is we don't get any short fields," Petrino said. "We're not creating any field position by our special teams lately, or getting turnovers by our defense, so everything's about driving the ball. We all know the more plays you have to drive the ball, the harder it is to score touchdowns."

WKU travels to Atlanta on Saturday to face Georgia State (0-8, 0-3 SBC). The Panthers have allowed a league-high 38 touchdowns this season and allow teams to score 83.8 percent of the time inside the red zone.

"We just have to fix the little things," McNeal said. "A missed block assignment, finishing a block, a misread, running the wrong route. Things like that can fixed."

— Chad Bishop covers Western Kentucky University athletics. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/MrChadBishop or visit bgdailynews.com.

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