Defense will look to improve further despite youth

Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt talks to players while they stretch before practice on Tuesday, Aug. 30, Smith Stadium. Kathryn Ziesig/HERALD

John Reecer

When you think of WKU football, one of the first things that comes to mind is the Hilltopper’s high-scoring offense.

However, the key to victory for the program over the past three years has been the play of its defensive units.

In Brohm’s first year as head coach, the defense certainly did not play up to expectations. That season the Toppers gave up an average of 510 yards per game and 39.9 points per game.

In 2015, the WKU defense took a step forward under defensive coordinator Nick Holt as the Toppers only allowed 405 yards per game and an average of 26 points per game.

The improvement in the defense resonated with the team’s overall record as the program improved from 8-5 in 2014 to 12-2 in 2015.

Taking yet another step forward in 2016 will be quite the task as the defense lost a host of players from last season who made a huge impact.

Gone are both Wonderful Terry and Prince Charles Iworah in the secondary. Gone are Nick Holt and Dejon Brown from the line-backing core, and gone are Gavin Rocker and Jontavius Morris from the defensive line.

While the Toppers do return season veterans like redshirt senior Branden Leston, senior Marcus Ward and redshirt junior T. J. McCollum to the defense, several newcomers will have to make a significant impact early for the Toppers.

Expect the likes of redshirt sophomore Joel Iyiegbuniwe, junior Joe Brown, graduate student Nick Dawson-Brents and graduate student Keith Brown to fill the holes WKU currently has on defense.

Dawson-Brents and Keith Brown were both four-star recruits out of high school, and both are transfers from the University of Louisville. Expect these two talented players to improve the Topper pass rush this season.

Joe Brown will bring his play-making ability to the secondary. Last season, the defensive back made a critical stop against Vanderbilt University on the goal line which gave WKU its season-opening victory.

Iyiegbuniwe has been patiently waiting his turn for the past two years.

He will now have to help lead an inexperienced group of linebackers. Last season he managed to record 16.5 tackles in just nine games of action.

Several other inexperienced players will have their shot to help improve the defense as well, however, it will be this core of players who will largely help determine WKU’s success on the season.

The offense will do what it does best, but the Toppers can only be as good as last year’s team if the inexperienced players and newcomers can help WKU to yet again improve defensively.

Reporter John Reecer can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @Reece_12_Falcon.