Hilltopper defense hitting its stride at the right time

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

Kyle Williams

Following a 59-10 loss at Louisiana Tech on Nov. 1, it’s safe to say that the Hilltopper defense faced its fair share of scrutiny.

It’s also safe to say the unit responded.

The Hilltoppers (5-5, 2-4 Conference USA) have held UTEP (6-4, 4-2 C-USA) and Army (3-7) to 394 and a season-low 333 yards, respectively, after giving up an average of 544.1 total yards per game through the first eight contests.

They did it at a good time, too, as the Hilltoppers are set to put a close to the home schedule on Saturday at 11 a.m. against UTSA (3-7, 2-4 C-USA) with a chance to gain bowl eligibility for the fourth-straight season.

UTSA’s offense is averaging 288.4 yards per game coming into Saturday’s matchup and the status of the Roadrunners’ starting quarterback, Tucker Carter, is up in the air due to a hit to the head on Nov. 8 against Rice.

With UTSA’s No. 2 going down with a broken hand earlier this season, that leaves third-string quarterback Austin Robinson as the only option for the Roadrunners.

Robinson has played in seven games this season, five with extended playing time, and thrown for 585 yards, one touchdown and four interceptions. The freshman completed 27-of-44 passes for 175 yards and an interception last week in a 12-10 win against Southern Miss.

The Roadrunner offense has failed to score a touchdown in two of its previous three games, which bodes well for the confident Hilltopper defensive unit that’s forced three-straight scoreless fourth quarters at home, dating back to WKU’s 66-51 win over Old Dominion on Oct. 25.

Despite the apparent advantage, redshirt senior defensive back Cam Thomas said the Hilltoppers won’t take any team lightly after a rough beginning to the season.

“I think we’re re-focused and now we know what’s at stake,” Thomas said. “That’s what I told the guys before practice and after practice. God put us in this position for a reason and now we just have to attack it and I feel like that’s what we’re going to do.”

Senior running back David Glasco II leads the Roadrunner rushing attack with 441 yards and four touchdowns on the season. The freshman quarterback Robinson is third on that list, behind sophomore running back Jarveon Williams with 172 yards.

With the Roadrunners’ first option at quarterback questionable and with Robinson’s dual-threat capability, Thomas said the defensive unit is preparing for anything and everything on Saturday.

“We’re definitely preparing for two,” Thomas said. “We heard that No. 6 (Carter) is going to come in late in the game or for just a few snaps. Really, we’re preparing for the whole offense. The skill guys, we’ve been watching, and they’ve got some decent guys. At the same time, we’re preparing for the scramble and the pocket passer.”

If bowl eligibility wasn’t enough, Saturday marks Senior Day on the Hill. Senior defensive lineman T.J. Smith said the WKU defense always plays for each other, and on Saturday, it’ll be no different.

“We all play hard, and we all play for each other,” Smith said. “It’s my last time going around, so I’m going to play hard for each one of my teammates because I want to look back on life and feel like I gave everything I had.”