Views from the bottom of The Hill: The bye week is a blessing

The WKU Hilltoppers hosted the Liberty University Flames for the season home opener on Sept. 19, 2020 in Houchens-Smith Stadium. The Hilltoppers lost to the Flames 30-24.

Kaden Gaylord

After losing their first two games of the season, this bye week couldn’t come at a better time for the Hilltoppers.

In their first two matchups of the season, the WKU defense has gone up against two mobile quarterbacks in Micale Cunningham from the University of Louisville and Malik Willis out of Liberty University.

WKU has put up poor performances in each outing. The Hilltoppers defense has given up 498 rushing yards, an average of 249 per game, with most of it coming from Liberty who had 354 yards on the ground.

It makes it look even worse when WKU only has 217 rushing yards total on the season. That is half of their opponents average per game.

Let’s not forget about the secondary who has been the question mark of the defense for the past few seasons. They weren’t as bad against Liberty like they were against Louisville, but for half of the game, the Flames’ receivers were getting whatever they wanted and were being more physical.

The secondary gave up 343 yards in the air against the Cardinals while improving in the next game, holding Liberty to 133 passing yards but have only forced one turnover on the year against Louisville.

This defense, especially the front seven, is supposed to be the strong point of the team, coming off the successful year they had last year.

The two opponents have been able to get first downs on third down plays 47% of the time and have given up first downs on fourth down plays four out of the seven attempts.

None of that can excuse how the offense has been underperforming thus far. Coming into the season the WKU offensive line was ranked No. 20 in the nation by Pro Football Focus, and they haven’t played up to par.

Defenses are getting into the backfield with ease, which is partly why WKU’s run game hasn’t developed.

We’ve seen what senior running back Gaej Walker can do with the ball, but with no push up front, he hasn’t been able to generate the offense that has become expected of him.

Whenever Tyrrell Pigrome has time in the pocket, he looks comfortable and is able to make most of the throws he’s being asked to make. Sometimes he is inaccurate, but that’s just what comes with being a quarterback.

We saw what he can do when he has time. He threw for three touchdowns against Liberty. They were all balls that only the receiver could catch, giving the defensive back no chance. But until the running game opens up the field more, it’s going to be difficult for the offense to flow.

Now I know it’s only week two, and with everything that is going on in the world all this analysis might be a little too much.

WKU started last year going (1-2) before the bye week. It’s not full on panic mode or anything close to it, but there needs to be major improvements on both sides of the ball if they hope to have a successful season for the second year in a row.

After the bye, WKU goes straight into a head banger against rival Middle Tennessee State University. It finished (4-8), (3-5, C-USA) last year and is off to a (0-2) start, but rivalry games are always competitive.

How the Hilltoppers come out of the break is how the tone for the rest of the season will be set, and depending on how it goes, we could be having one of two conversations that are on opposite ends of the spectrum.

Men’s basketball beat reporter and sports columnist Kaden Gaylord can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Kaden on Twitter at @_KLG3.