Execution key for Hilltoppers moving forward

Sophomore defensive lineman D’Von Issac (99) lines up during a drill at practice on Tuesday. The Hilltoppers, coming off a45-38 loss to Florida Atlantic, face Old Dominion at home on Saturday. Brandon Carter/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

Redshirt senior defensive back Cam Thomas wants to do everything in his power to help the Hilltopper defense obtain an attitude. The three-year starter had a long talk with Head Coach Jeff Brohm on Sunday following WKU’s 45-38 loss at Florida Atlantic, where the defense allowed 31 second-half points.

For his last go-around in his senior season, he wants numbers like 533 yards and 39 points given up per game to decrease dramatically.

But time is running out.

“We just talked about things that we could change,” Thomas said. “I went in there and got the team together and just made sure those guys knew what was on the head coach’s mind and him to see what’s on my mind also so we can change this around. It’s my last year, and I also wanted these guys to go in the right direction going forward to their junior and senior year.”

Halfway through the season, WKU (2-4, 0-3 Conference USA) is still searching for its first league win and hopes to find it Saturday in the first-ever meeting against Old Dominion (3-4, 1-3) in a 3 p.m. CT kickoff.

However, it’s the second-half kickoff that has the WKU defense worried.

“I saw us lose our mojo a little bit in the second half on defense,” Brohm said. “I didn’t think we played with the all-out bounce in the step that we could have. I think we got tired a little bit. We’re going to have to keep guys a little bit fresh. Some of our most experienced guys, our guys that have played the most, got a little tired in the second half, and they weren’t able to play all out like they should have. So we have to address that.”

Defensive Coordinator Nick Holt said making adjustments at halftime isn’t the problem. The problem is executing them.     There won’t be any room for error facing Old Dominion senior quarterback Taylor Heinicke, who was awarded the Walter Payton Award in 2012, given to the Football Championship Subdivision’s best player.

Much like WKU’s defense, the Monarchs’ offense is seeing its fair share of growing pains. A youthful offensive line and receiving core are working with their first year at the FBS level. However, Heinicke remains a prolific signal caller with a 62.5 completion percentage for 1,815 yards and 18 touchdowns on the year.

“He is a heck of a football player, and when you watch the games this season, he sits in the pocket and doesn’t get rattled,” Holt said. “He rarely throws bad footballs. His completion percentage is pretty good, and he doesn’t have a lot of interceptions. He’s a tough kid, as you can see, because he takes some licks. It’ll be a big challenge for us.”

Despite the youth of ODU’s offense, with the exception of its quarterback, Thomas understands the defense is not to be taken lightly, especially if WKU wants to keep aspirations of a bowl game alive.

But that requires finishing the game.

“You have to fight,” Thomas said. “There’s no other way to say it. We have to come out and bust our butts and get that fire back, get that swagger back and get the will to win.

“The adversity is going to come, but we still have six games to play to get a bowl game. All of that is still in our vision, and that’s what we’re going to do.”