Hilltoppers look ahead after defensive collapse at La. Tech

Redshirt junior quarterback Mike White (14) makes a pass during WKU’s 50-3 win over Houston Baptist Saturday, Oct. 1 at Smith Stadium. Ebony Cox/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

Just five days after a blowout win over FCS Houston Baptist, the WKU football team saw its 13-game Conference USA winning streak snapped on Thursday, Oct. 7, at the hands of Louisiana Tech by a final score of 55-52 in Ruston, Louisiana.

“It was a tough loss for us, but a lot of things can be learned from it,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “A lot of corrections need to be made and we have to make sure that we use these defeats to allow our anger to motivate us to never lose again. I think our guys at this point understand that and we’ve got a lot of work to do this week.”

The Hilltoppers (3-3 overall, 1-1 C-USA) committed two turnovers and gave up 561 total yards in the loss. The 55 points were the most a WKU team has given up since their 67-66 overtime win over Marshall on Nov. 28, 2014.

“I haven’t seen us play as bad as we did [since] two years ago,” Brohm said. “They hit some deep balls on us and we lost some confidence on the defensive side, and that caused us to be very vanilla, which we’re not good at. We have to make sure that we change things up, get after the quarterback, blitz … and do a lot more things than what we did.”

“I think that getting beat three times in the first half over our heads for easy touchdowns was not good and we lost confidence because of that,” Brohm said. “We’ve got to get that back and make sure we don’t allow that to happen again.”

While the loss was disappointing for Brohm’s squad, there were a few bright spots on offense.

WKU got the scoring started early, covering 50 yards in 10 plays on its first series. Senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris caught a nine-yard pass from redshirt junior quarterback Mike White on third and three to put the Toppers up 7-0 at the 11:15 mark of the first quarter.

White finished the game with 340 yards on 36 of 50 passing and five touchdowns, three of which were hauled in by Norris.

Even with the big performances from Norris and White, the defensive collapse essentially kept the Toppers from having a chance to win late in the game.

“If you simplify it, yes our offense did a lot of good things,” Brohm said. “Our special teams did some very good things but it was just not a good day on defense for us. All three units have to play good. If you can get two units to play great that’s awesome, but they all three have to play good. It just wasn’t our night on that side of the ball and we take full responsibility for it.”

From that point on, the game went back and forth as WKU tied the Bulldogs three more times in the first half, but trailed 35-24 going into the locker room.

After posting solid defensive outings against higher competition earlier this season, the Topper defense struggled to stop the quick attack from Tech, falling behind by as many as 25 points midway through the third quarter.

The Toppers will look to regroup when they travel to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, for a matchup with conference rival Middle Tennessee State University on Saturday.

MTSU currently sits in first place of the C-USA standings and has an experienced quarterback leading the way in redshirt sophomore Brent Stockstill.

“I mean, we don’t like to point fingers, but just as a defense as a whole we just have to get better,” junior defensive tackle Chris Johnson said. “From the d-line to the linebackers to the secondary and the whole defense, we just have to get better and come back and be prepared for Saturday.”

Thursday’s game against Louisiana Tech marked the first time redshirt senior left tackle Forrest Lamp had played since a Saturday, Sept. 17 away game at Miami (Ohio) when he suffered a lower leg injury.

“It’s a big one,” Lamp said about this coming Saturday’s game. “Obviously Middle Tennessee is one of our biggest rivals, but it’s a big one because it’s the next one and that’s what coach always harps on every week. We’re in a one-game season every week and that’s why it’s a big one.”

Reporter Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.