Hilltopper offense, defense on different ends of the spectrum

Junior running back Leon Allen (33) runs for a touchdown during the third quarter of WKU’s Oct. 25 victory over Old Dominion. Allen rushed 32 times for 182 yards and two touchdowns as the Hilltoppers defeated the Monarchs 66-51. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Kyle Williams

With five games remaining on the regular-season schedule, WKU football is searching for balance.

The Hilltoppers (3-4, 1-3 Conference USA) have seemingly found that balance on the offensive side of the ball, but the defense has been a different story thus far.

Saturday’s win over Old Dominion yielded an FBS-record 66 points on just 71 plays, which included a total of 601 yards — 371 through the air and 230 on the ground. The win marked the first time WKU has rushed for more than 200 yards this season, followed by the Hilltoppers’ 184 yards in their 42-39 loss to UAB on Oct. 4.

“I think the balance that we were able to have this last game helped us,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “Not only to move the ball, but get in less third-down situations. I think we were 5-for-8 on third downs, which is not a lot of third downs when you score that many points, so that helps the offense be successful.”

Junior running back Leon Allen led the Hilltopper rush attack with a career-high 182 yards on 32 carries for two touchdowns. Allen added two receptions for a total of 213 all-purpose yards. He is currently one of eight running backs in the nation with more than 700 rushing yards and 200 receiving yards this season.

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty made even more room for himself in the WKU record books with five first-half touchdown passes. In addition, his 34-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Taywan Taylor in the second quarter broke Kawaun Jakes’ single-season passing touchdown record of 22 set in 2012. Doughty has five more games to extend his record, which now sits at 24.  

WKU’s longest offensive scoring play against ODU came on a 45-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to redshirt senior receiver Joel German for his first-career touchdown. The 66 points scored ranks as the second-most for any team in conference play this season, but German said the offensive success should come as no surprise.

“I’m not surprised because I really believe in our offense,” German said. “I feel like that’s what we’re supposed to do.”

While the WKU offense ranks No. 5 in the country at 554.7 yards per game, the Hilltopper defense ranks second-to-last in total defense, allowing 549.4 yards per game, which is a mere 4.2 yards per game less than the NCAA’s worst statistical defense.

The Hilltoppers used a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal their win against the Monarchs, marking their fourth 80+ yards defensive touchdown this season, which is the most in the NCAA. However, after giving up 643 yards and 51 points against ODU, the WKU defense is still searching for the balance it needs to be successful.

“Without question, we have to get better on defense,” Brohm said. “We didn’t tackle well. We had too many missed tackles. We gave up too many big plays. We didn’t get off the field on third and fourth down as much as we’d like, so there’s definitely a lot of improvement to be made. …We have to keep shuffling the deck a little bit, and let guys know if they’re not going to perform at a high level, we’re going to try someone else.”

On a positive note, the Hilltoppers managed to hold the Monarchs to a zero-point fourth quarter, which marks the first time this season that WKU has held an opponent to a scoreless final period. Junior defensive lineman Ge’Monee Brown said the strong defensive showing in the fourth quarter should carry over to this Saturday’s matchup against Louisiana Tech.

“Obviously, the first three quarters weren’t very good, but it’s better late than never,” Brown said. “In Saturday’s case, it was good that we came up at the end and made some plays with Juwan (Gardner) getting the pick-six and Bryan Shorter getting the sack.”