WKU relying on rising run game at LA Tech

Junior running back Leon Allen (33) advances the ball down field during the first half of the WKU vs Old Dominion University game at Smith Stadium on Oct. 25. In the first half Allen had 16 carries 93 yards and one touchdown. Jake Pope/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

WKU’s run game finally had the breakout performance it has searched for all season. Junior running back Leon Allen, whose season-high before Saturday’s 66-51 win over Old Dominion was 138 rushing yards, ran for a career-high 182 yards and earned 213 all-purpose yards against the Monarchs.

Just when the run game has hit its stride, WKU (3-4, 1-3 C-USA) faces the biggest test yet against Conference USA’s toughest run defense in Louisiana Tech.

 The Bulldogs (5-3, 4-0 C-USA) have held opponents to 125.6 rushing yards per game and just 225 yards in the passing game.

  In order to hand LA Tech its first conference loss of the season, WKU’s offense will have to maintain the balance it showed against ODU.

 Manny Diaz took over as defensive coordinator at LA Tech after serving three seasons in the same role at Texas, and a year before that at Mississippi State.

 Since he took over, the Bulldogs rank 10th in the nation with 60 tackles for a loss, seventh in turnovers gained (20) and ninth in passes intercepted (12).

 “It’s going to take a strong run game to win this one,” offensive coordinator Tyson Helton said. “They’re not going to let us just drop back and throw the ball. We have to make sure that we’re solid. I think the O-line is improving. I think we’re a lot healthier than we were earlier in the season. I’m excited to get out there and see what we can do.”

The quarterback is often quoted as saying ‘the run game is a quarterback’s best friend.’

WKU’s offense, ranked fifth in the nation averaging 554.7 yards per game, is seeing more out of its run game with Allen and sophomore Anthony ‘Ace’ Wales.

 Allen, who was limited in recent weeks due to a knee injury, averaged 5.7 yards on 32 carries against ODU. Helton said the plan moving forward is to continue to split the workload between Allen and Wales, despite the success Allen saw when he carried the load on Saturday.

“I thought Leon got stronger as the game went on,” Helton said. “In the fourth quarter, that was probably his best part of the game right there. Most of the time when you’re a big back you get tired, but he really started to come on in the fourth quarter.

 “I think Ace has shown that he can be a solid back for us. That’s helping Leon in the long run, and it showed up in the fourth quarter. He was able to be a little more rested than he had been early in the season so we’ll continue to mix those guys in.”

 Although LA Tech was facing the conference’s worst rushing team, the Bulldogs held the Golden Eagles to -31 rushing yards. Allen credits an experienced defense led by three senior linebackers and junior safety Kentrell Brice, who leads the team with 50 tackles and three forced fumbles.

 “Everybody flies to the ball real good,” Allen said. “They have almost everybody to the ball every snap. They have some good linebackers, D-tackles and D-ends. They do a lot of good things.”