Tops searching for answers following 42-39 loss to UAB

WKU redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Wales (20) makes a superman dive into the end zone during the first half against Conference USA opponent University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Saturday October 4, 2014 at Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. Despite rushing for 138 yards and three scores Wales could not propel the Hilltoppers to victory in a disappointing 42-39 loss that saw the WKU defense allow 591 yards on offense, a season high. Luke Franke/HERALD

Kyle Williams

Saturday’s loss to UAB, in several ways, was descriptive of the Hilltoppers’ season thus far.

WKU (2-3, 0-2 Conference USA) racked up 503 yards of offense, and although the defense forced three turnovers, UAB (3-2, 1-1) totaled 591 yards en route to its 42-39 victory in the Hilltoppers’ inaugural Conference USA home game.

Despite averaging 576 yards of total offense per game – good for sixth in the country – the Hilltoppers are giving up an average of 38 points and 516 yards per game on the defensive side of the ball, which has Head Coach Jeff Brohm looking for solutions.

“We play well at times. We give up a lot of big plays that hurt us,” Brohm said. “Right now, obviously, we don’t have a good answer for it. We wanted to play well in the second half and, really, it is what it is. We’ll go back and look at it as hard as we can. We need to play better.”

The Hilltoppers put forth a valiant defensive effort in the first half of Saturday’s game, limiting the Blazers to 210 yards and 14 points while forcing a turnover and totaling five tackles for a loss. Nevertheless, WKU gave up 381 yards and 28 points in the second half, including 21 unanswered to begin the third quarter.

In the first half of each of WKU’s five games this season, the Hilltoppers have given up 15.2 points, but in the second halves and three overtime periods, they’ve given up an average of 23.2.

Redshirt senior defensive back Cam Thomas and the rest of the WKU defense will have a second bye week to examine and correct their miscues before the team’s Oct. 18 meeting with Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida.

“We just have to continue to improve each week,” Thomas said. “I know we have a bye week, but we are going to treat it like a game week and continue to read our keys and watch this film and past films to see how we can do better in the second half. We’ve got to be a four-quarter team and not just play two quarters. We’ve got the guys to do it. We’re playing hard; we just have to finish games. That is the biggest thing for us right now.”   

Big plays are seemingly another Achilles heel of this defense, as WKU has allowed 40 running plays of 10 yards or more and 29 passing plays of at least 15 yards.

Although the Hilltoppers’ offense averages 6.7 yards per play, the defense gives up 6.4 per snap, which contributes to the fact that all three of WKU’s losses have come by a combined 14 points.

“Obviously, it’s a very disappointing loss,” Brohm said. “Played well the first half, then in the second half, bottom line, we got beat. The other team played better. Found a way to make plays, we did not. We’ve had a lot of close games. This one was just like it.”

The WKU mishaps aren’t limited to the defense. For the first time this season, the Hilltopper offense looked lackluster in the second half, compiling just 133 yards of offense after totaling 370 in the first half on Saturday.

WKU wasn’t forced to punt at all in the first half, but the Hilltoppers began the second half with a punt, a turnover on downs, and another punt. Two of WKU’s three first-half third-down conversions were successful, but the Hilltoppers converted on just one of their final seven third-down attempts.

“They did what any other defense does, adjust at halftime,” redshirt sophomore running back Anthony “Ace” Wales said. “I feel like everything was on us. I’d say we came out a little more flat than we usually do. They came out ready to play. We tried to pick it up at the end, but obviously we fell short.”

WKU’s recent play has raised some questions, but according to Thomas, the Hilltoppers have the players to answer.

“We didn’t show up this game, but I’m positive these guys hurt right now, and they’re ready to get back and do what they came here to do,” Thomas said.