WKU football on the brink of season breakdown

Head coach Jeff Brohm after WKU’s 34-42 loss against the University of Illinois Saturday, Sept. 6, 2014, at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, Ill. Mike Clark/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

Head Coach Jeff Brohm’s message to his football team is pretty simple. They’re 2-4, winless in a new conference, searching for answers on defense and scratching their heads on halftime adjustments.

It’s not complicated — it is what it is.

How’s that for some deep thought?

But it’s okay. They get four of their last six games at home against teams that have a combined losing record. It only gets better from here, right?

Well, it doesn’t quite work that way when the opposition looks at WKU on the schedule and thinks the same thing: “Here’s a 2-4 team that can’t finish a game. Surely it goes up for us.”

It’s at that point — this very week as the Hilltoppers prepare for Old Dominion for a 3:00 p.m. CT kickoff — when the picture changes.

“We understand the situation,” Brohm said. “We haven’t been able to correct a few of the issues, but we have got to fight through it.”

Preseason goals of winning a conference championship are out the window. It’s hard to do that when you allow 533 yards and 39 points per game.

Now this team will be thrilled to reach six wins and snag a bowl bid.

We’ve seen this scene the past four years, and only once did it work. WKU reached more than six wins the last three years in the Sun Belt Conference, reaching a bowl game only one of those years, where the Hilltoppers lost five of their last seven games after a 5-1 start in 2012.

Yes, the advantage of being in the Conference USA allows for a season like 2011 (7-5) and 2013 (8-4) to end in the holidays. But even six wins doesn’t always get you into the party if everyone else gets there first. Obviously, WKU has to win four of its next six games to even consider a 13th game. Standing in the way are the league’s top two teams in No. 23 Marshall (7-0) and Louisiana Tech (4-3).

Fans may not like it, but that’s the situation this team faces.

“You can’t give up now,” redshirt senior Willie McNeal said. “You have a whole half of a season left. With four losses, we can go 8-4. So you just have to stay positive and stay hungry.”

Don’t be completely discouraged. This team is about two plays per game away from being 5-0. Of all the teams in the country with four losses, WKU has the slimmest margin of defeat by total points of 21. The next closest margin is Navy by a total of 42 points.

“I’d be more upset if I sat up here and we were getting crushed every week,” Brohm said. “I think that we are right in the thick of it. We’re a competitive football team. We haven’t been good enough to win close football games. We’re definitely working on it, but we have to learn on the job. We’ve got to perform better on game day, especially in the second half, if we want to get over the hump.”

That’s an awfully big hump this team faces. But this is football, not horseshoes — close doesn’t count. If the adjustments can’t be made against Old Dominion on Saturday, this team is in real trouble, and that is what it is.