Pratt: Toppers have plenty to work on during bye week

Redshirt freshman wide receiver Kylen Towner gets tackled during the first half of the WKU vs MTSU game on Sept. 13, 2014. Alyssa Pointer/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

This looks oddly familiar. WKU is 1-2 to start the year and 0-1 in conference play.

Once again, the expectations of a new coach and an impressive debut have fallen short by the disappointment of the following two contests.

WKU’s Saturday night 50-47 triple-overtime loss to Middle Tennessee could have easily gone either way, with the Hilltoppers looking at a 1-0 start to their first season in Conference USA.

Instead, WKU is in the same spot it was at this point in the season last year. If history continues to repeat itself, it will get better. After their 1-2 start last season, the Hilltoppers won three-straight, including a win against Navy.

Come back to this season. Navy is the next opponent on the schedule, but unlike last year, WKU now has a bye week to fix a lot of the mistakes that could have been the difference between 1-2 and 3-0.

First off, WKU’s defense has shown glimpses of improvement but has overall been pretty bad. The defense has given up an average of 41 points per game and allowed 323 yards on the ground to MTSU, marking the first time WKU has allowed 300 or more yards in a game since Navy in 2011.

They had earned a reputation last year of shutting down dual threat quarterbacks, but MTSU sophomore Austin Grammer ran laps around the defense on Saturday. Before that game, Grammer had just 33 yards in two games. Against WKU, he ran for 125 yards and three touchdowns while also completing 17-of-28 passes for 218 yards and a score.

The defense did a decent job of stop ping the run against Illinois and Bowling Green State, but the display it showed against MTSU isn’t a comforting way to start out conference play. With Navy characteristically leading the country in rushing yards per game, and with conference opponents UTEP and Marshall ranking nationally at ninth and 15th in rushing offense respectively, a bye week for the defense is just what they need before heading into a crucial stretch of the season.

Perhaps rather than running against practice squad guys, WKU’s defense should run against the first team offense, because nobody is stopping that group.

After the opener against Bowling Green, I believed there was no way the Hilltopper offense could put up better numbers than they did. But they shut me up and did it again against MTSU.

The offense ran more plays and redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw more passes for 593 yards – a Conference USA single-game record.

This WKU offense is pretty much unstoppable unless they stop it themselves.

The last two weeks have been evidence that the Hilltopper offense is a double-edged sword that can embarrass a defense as quickly as itself. Against Illinois, WKU gave up a fourth quarter lead when Doughty threw a pick-six that contributed significantly to a 42-34 loss.

Saturday night in Murfreesboro, Doughty threw an interception that led to an MTSU touchdown that tied the score at halftime. Leon Allen had a third-quarter touchdown run reversed that led to a goal-line stand from the Blue Raiders.

As long as the offense can execute efficiently, they’ll consistently score enough points to bail out its defense. However, that isn’t happening, and it’s the reason WKU is sitting in that same uncomfortable sub-.500 position as last season.

The current bye week comes at an important time for the Hilltoppers, and if history repeats itself, déjà vu may not be a bad thing for the next few weeks.