WKU defense no stranger to adversity

Redshirt junior defensive back Prince Charles Iworah (30) reaches to tackle Old Dominion’s Melvin Vaughn during the first half of the Old Dominion game on Saturday. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Kyle Williams

Adversity is something that the WKU defense knows all too well.

Statistically, the Hilltoppers’ defensive unit ranks 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.

But that’s on paper.

If you look at the product on the field, you’ll see a gritty, tough-nosed bunch that knows nothing different than to work hard – because they have to.

The Hilltoppers have been hit with the injury bug consistently since fall camp, especially last week. The unit was without its senior leader, defensive back Cam Thomas. It showed as WKU gave up 59 points and allowed 507 yards.

Following practice on Wednesday, defensive coordinator Nick Holt stressed the importance of constant improvement with a next-man-up philosophy.

“We’ve had a lot of adversity as far as guys injured starting fall camp. DeVante Thomas and some other guys right from the get-go. Unfortunately, that’s part of football is injuries. You have to make due with what you have. Like we tell them, the next guy has got to battle up and rise up. …We just have to keep on getting better,” Holt said.

One method the Hilltoppers have utilized this season is the 24-hour rule. On Sunday the entire team watches film and identifies the mistakes made. Then following the 24-hour period after the week’s game, the team forgets about the result and focuses on correcting its miscues. 

Sophomore safety Marcus Ward said the errors that have paid dividends for opposing teams aren’t impossible to fix.

“Everything that we’ve been doing in the games that’s really affecting us – we can correct it,” Ward said. “We can move on week after week. We just roll over what we need to learn and let the bad things get out of our mind and just move on to the next team.”

That next team is UTEP. The Miners will be welcomed to Smith Stadium for the Hilltoppers’ Homecoming matchup at 3 p.m. Saturday.

The Miners field the league’s second-best rushing offense at 207.8 yards per game while coming in at fourth in pass defense at 208.4 yards per game.

UTEP is also coming off a 35-14 win over Southern Miss that yielded five forced turnovers, which increased its turnover ratio to +9 on the season — best in the conference and 10th-best in the country.

A strong rushing attack, a formidable pass defense and a unit that forces turnovers is a recipe for success against the Hilltoppers, but if it’s one thing this defense is used to, it’s adversity.

“Our kids are resilient,” Holt said. “They come back every day – starting on Sunday, a day after the game with our meetings and some of our weight workouts. They do a good job of fighting through adversity and seeing the light and the end of the tunnel and taking the good and the bad and learning from it. …There’s four more games left and we can finish out here strong.”