Defense remains biggest question mark

WKU lineman participate in full contact drills during the team’s open practice Wednesday at L.T. Smith Stadium. (Luke Franke/Herald)

Billy Rutledge

The road to a Conference USA title is a long journey full of trials and tribulations. Last season, the WKU football team’s inaugural season in C-USA featured some success towards the team’s goal, with an 8-5 record led by the fourth best offensive attack in the nation. 

However, a squad that ranked 122 out of 128 teams in total defense gave up 39.9 points per game last season and ranked dead last in C-USA. 

Now the year is 2015. WKU returns nine starters on defense, which include its entire defensive line and notable names such as redshirt seniors linebacker Nick Holt and defensive back Wonderful Terry.

Head Coach Jeff Brohm expects big numbers again from the offensive side of the ball this year, but it will be the stability of the defense that the Hilltoppers will have to maintain to get to their ultimate goal.

“I think we’re gonna be improved,” Brohm said. “I think we’re gonna have more beef up front. We’re trying to get more size and strength. We’ve seen that in the numbers in the weight room. We need to develop some secondary play that we feel good about.”

Holt said there are many things the defense has to differently this year.

“We’re doing tackling drills at the beginning of practice for ten minutes every practice and a lot more guys are getting reps and experience,” he said. “It helps going against one of the best offenses in the country day in and day out.” 

Much success in 2015 hinges on the shoulders of Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt, father of the senior starting middle linebacker for WKU. Holt enters his third season as DC on the Hill, retaining his job after the historically bad season last year. In 2013, he led the Hilltoppers defense to a final regular season ranking of No. 14 in total defense and No. 10 in pass defense. 

Brohm remains confident that DC Holt can lead WKU to a better season in 2015. If he can, the combination of a high powered offense and veteran defense can be one that yields great success in FBS Division I football.

“We need to get a little more physical in the run game, so we are concentrating on good pad level drills, board drills, some one-on-one competition type of drills,”  DC Holt said. “We’re learning to compete and finish things and kind of grinding it out, getting a little more physical style of play. A lot of it is our guys getting a little bit bigger and stronger, and I think that will help out, really concentrating on some good fundamentals, getting good starts, striking blockers, getting off blockers and running towards the ball.”

WKU enters week three of spring training and as the annual Red versus White game approaches on April 18, the Hilltoppers will continue to get better on both sides of the ball. But, with redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty and a host of other significant players in their final season at WKU, the time for winning is now.

“We’ll get better because we have a lot of guys coming back, and we are a year older,” DC Holt said. “We improved at the end of last year, and we just have to keep that momentum rolling.”