Football Notebook: Hilltopper defense aiming to make statement; players talk Bahamas

A host of WKU defenders tackle Army running back Larry Dixon during the second half of WKU’s Nov. 15 game against Army. The Hilltoppers’ defense held the Black Knights to an average of 5.3 yards per carry, leading WKU to a 52-24 victory. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

Rico Brown played his last snap on offense when WKU played Central Michigan in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl two years ago.

Brown was a wide receiver who was the beneficiary of a 70-yard flea-flicker on WKU’s first play.

Two years later, Brown is a defensive back for the Hilltoppers in a rematch with the Chippewas on Dec. 24 for an 11 a.m. CT kickoff.

Brown is one of the 11 current players who played in WKU’s only bowl appearance. Not only is this game an opportunity for revenge against CMU – which won 24-21 against WKU in Detroit, Michigan in 2012 – it’s a chance for extra practice for those taking over the program’s future, Brown said.

“It’s very essential for them,” Brown said. “Coach wants a lot of players playing in this game. We’ve been giving them a lot of reps in practice to get them ready for next year. We’re going to go down there and have fun.”

Defensive statement

It’s been a year of progression for the WKU defense.

Before WKU’s four-game win streak to close the regular season, the Hilltoppers ranked second-to-last in total defense at 544.1 yards allowed per game, just 9.5 yards per game fewer than the NCAA’s worst mark.

Sandwiched in between giving up 59 points to Louisiana Tech and 66 at Marshall, WKU had improved immensely in stopping its opponents.

In WKU’s last three home games, the defense progressed each week holding UTEP to 394 yards, 333 against Army and 234 versus UTSA, including just one touchdown allowed to the Roadrunners.

The Hilltoppers face a CMU team ranking 88th in scoring offense (25.2 ppg), 80th in total offense (380.7 ypg).

“I said at the beginning of the season that we wouldn’t lose faith in those guys; guys who didn’t play a lot of football together in previous years,” redshirt senior defensive back Cam Thomas said. “We came in and it was kind of hard having two key players that played in those defenses and to have those guys come in late in the season and do really well and get their mojo back was great.

“A lot of negativity came around this defense this year, but we got the job done the last four games and we plan on doing it a fifth game.”

Fun in the Bahamas

Senior linebacker Terran “Chill” Williams said he was “the happiest person in the world” when he learned WKU was playing its bowl game in the Bahamas.

The inaugural Bahamas Bowl is the first bowl game played outside of the United States was in 2010 when South Florida played Northern Illinois in Toronto.

The Hilltoppers will depart on Dec. 20 and stay at Atlantis Paradise Island, one of the most popular attractions in the Bahamas.

“The pools and the jet skis,” Williams said about what he was looking forward to most about the trip. “I rode a jet ski one time. Even though people say I’m from Florida they think I ride them a lot. The first time I rode a jet ski was two years ago and I only rode it one time. That’s what I want to do as soon as I get there.”

Thomas, a Patterson, New Jersey native, said he plans to take on the “60-foot almost-verticle drop” slide that drops into a clear acrylic tunnel in a shark lagoon.

“I’m not a beach person, but to go out there and see the scenery –  it’ll be nice to get outside the country once,” Thomas said. “I want to go down that water slide. I’m going to do it. I’m a dare devil. I wanted to sky dive with (WKU president) Gary (Ransdell on Nov. 15) I can’t wait to do the slide. It’ll be nice to get some real seafood too.”