Backfield looks to find its rhythm against Miami (Ohio)

Redshirt junior quarterback Mike White (14) passes during WKU’s 10-38 loss to Alabama on Saturday, Sept. 10 at Bryant–Denny Stadium in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Jeff Brown/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

From a preparation standpoint, football teams do a lot of adjusting from week to week.

Preparing to play the No. 1 team in the country is a bit different than preparing for an opponent you beat handily in the recent past, but that’s the transition Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s team will have to make this week as it prepares to take on Miami (Ohio) University one week after losing to the defending national champions.

“Any time you lose, you’re not happy,” Brohm said in a press conference on Monday. “It leaves a bitter taste in your mouth. I’m disappointed that I wasn’t able to do more to help our team get open, find ways to create some more plays, so I’ve got to go back to the drawing board, and we’ve got to refocus.”

This year’s matchup between the Hilltoppers and Redhawks comes in a similar situation as it did last year.

WKU made quick work of Miami (Ohio) in Smith Stadium by a final score of 56-14 in week four of last season — one week after the Toppers lost to Power-5 Indiana University Bloomington, 35-38.

Now, coming off a larger test against Alabama in which Brohm “liked the fight” in his team, the Toppers will look to refocus and regain their offensive production from the season opener.

“There were a lot of little things we didn’t do that we should’ve,” junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant said. “I felt like we played hard but didn’t finish. The special thing about this offense is that every week, no matter who we play, we’re coming in thinking that we have the best chance in the world to win.”

A year ago, former quarterback Brandon Doughty shredded the Redhawks to the tune of 457 yards and six touchdowns with only eight incompletions.

This weekend’s quarterback situation is less solidified with starter Mike White a bit beat up after last weekend’s game, but White has proven his capability after a 517-yard performance in week one.

As Brohm mentioned in Monday’s press conference, the Toppers’ backfield has struggled to find its rhythm with redshirt sophomore D’Andre Ferby still questionable after a week-one shoulder injury.

“I’d love to get [Ferby] back,” Brohm said. “We need to get our running game going. It hasn’t been where we would like it to be.”

Brohm isn’t alone in pointing out the lack of production from the backfield.

“I don’t think it’s been good at all,” redshirt senior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales said. “Especially with the line we have –– those guys block their butts off every single game –– so we need to produce way more than we have [by] just trusting what the coaches call for us … we just have to stick with it and go hard.”

Wales will look to replace the production his injured backfield mate Ferby put up against the Redhawks last season. Ferby accounted for 105 of the 124 yards the Toppers gained on the ground in the matchup, and Wales said he doesn’t take Ferby’s absence as an excuse for the backfield’s lack of production as a whole.

“We still have great running backs in this unit,” Wales said. “As a leader, I just need to pick it up and that’s going to help the younger guys get better so we can go out there and play WKU football.”

One facet of his team that Brohm has confidence in up to this point is the defense.

“I think coach [Nick] Holt and our staff does a great job of taking away the run and loading the box and making people throw the ball down the field,” Brohm said. “If you can do that and put some pressure on the quarterback and hit him a few times, you should have a chance.”

Holt’s defense gained some confidence after hanging with the Tide for the majority of the first half on Saturday. The front seven and depth have been particularly strong suits up to this point, and redshirt sophomore defensive back De’Andre Simmons said the unit gained some confidence in Tuscaloosa.

“We learned that we can really play with anybody in the country, and we just can’t beat ourselves,” Simmons said. “We’re too deep at every position on defense. We have two or three people at every position, so when you’re tired, you tap out and the next person comes in and picks up where you left off.”

Brohm’s said he and his team take the season one week at a time, and a big emphasis for his team heading into this week involved refocusing and learning from the mistakes it made a week ago.

“We don’t go out there with a high head or go out there thinking ‘we just played Bama so these guys are going to feel sorry for us,’” Wales said. “They’re sitting at 0-2, so they want to get their first win. We just have to go with the same attitude we’ve been having.”

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