Pratt: WKU’s success hinges on its defense

WKU senior defensive back Ricardo Singh (38) sprints downfield just after picking off a UAB pass in the second half of WKU’s matchup against Conference USA opponent UAB Saturday October 4, 2014 at Smith Stadium. Luke Franke/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

At some point, you have to call a spade a spade.

At some point, what haunts you must be confronted.

The point here? Western Kentucky’s defense hasn’t been very good thus far this season. Heck, to say they aren’t good may be too nice. So, let’s just call a spade a spade here.

Yeah, that’s more like it, because five games into the season an average of 38 points and 516 yards given up per game is down-right atrocious.

Is that harsh? Depends on your analysis of an opinion, but the facts are the facts.

After a 42-39 home loss to UAB Saturday night, WKU has to live with the fact that its defense has a problem.

“We just have to continue to improve each week. 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 to see how we can do better in the second half,” senior cornerback Cam Thomas said. “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.” 

In all honesty, this is what Thomas is supposed to say. He’s the senior leader of this team with NFL potential. But it’s kind of hard to say you’re going to “continue to improve” when, in all reality, this defense has not improved.

Sure, there’s been some windows of hope. You could call them “Wonderful” plays and what not, but that’s also the problem. This defense can’t bank on a big play to fall their way with a score. In all their struggles, this defense has scored three touchdowns on the year, a lot more than even some major football programs.

Once in a while you get lucky when UAB quarterback Cody Clements turns into Johnny Football and scrambles around until he decides to chuck it unintentionally to Ricardo Singh, who then has no problem racing 85 yards towards a score. You can’t always bank on Wonderful Terry coming up with a pick-six or strip-fumble for a touchdown to change the momentum.

Thomas even opened a window of hope with a fumble recovery from a potential UAB score in the fourth quarter.

It’s nice when that happens and when it does, there’s almost a glimmer of hope that at that moment, the defense has turned it around.

Then reality sets back in, and you’re back to square one.

Perhaps WKU Head Coach Jeff Brohm has been telling us this message all along. I can’t count how many times he’s said in a press conference that he realizes every game is going to come down to the wire. With the exception of the season opener, he’s been spot on with that prophesy.

Maybe he, too, has held on to hope that something will turn this defense around.

But on Saturday night, I saw a coach who had no answers or explanations for his frustration.

“It is (frustrating). We play well at times and we give up a lot of big plays that hurt us,” Brohm said. “Right now we obviously don’t have a good answer for it. We wanted to play well the second half. Really, it is what it is. We’ll go back and look at it as hard as we can. They had a good runner that ran strong and a quarterback who made some plays with his feet and they threw the ball deep on us. We need to play better.”

It’s at the point now where not even this offense can keep up with the lackluster performance of the WKU defense. As a team, each side of the ball must rely on each other.

Saturday night was evidence that when the Hilltopper offense stalls, the entire unit follows suit. When WKU’s offense couldn’t get anything going, the defense couldn’t help them out and gave up 21 points to open the third quarter.

“Like any other team they just caught us in spots at different times during the game,” Thomas said. “We weren’t there when we were supposed to be. It’s all on our defense, a mistake at different points during the drive where guys weren’t where they were supposed to be. We had a lot of missed tackles. 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.”

That’s a statement of a leader. Thomas knows they didn’t show up Saturday night. He’s pointed out the wound in this defense and the fact that it covers 11 positions.

This team now knows that they can’t pretend that it’s going to “continue to improve”, because it’s not unless they accept the spade for itself and call it like it is.