Topper defense hopes to fill voids with experience

WKU defensive back Prince Charles Iworah piles atop fellow toppers Daqual Randall and Kalvin Robinson while tackling Morgan State running back Tracy Martin. WKU defeated Morgan State Saturday night 58-17.

Elliott Pratt

Kalvin Robinson believes that the proof is in the pudding.

Personally for Robinson, his favorite is chocolate. But when it comes to dissecting the “pudding” of WKU’s defense from last season, concerns at the beginning of the year were put to rest by the results of its flavor.

“Many people didn’t see it until the stats came out at the end of the season and say, ‘Wow, this really was a good defense overall’,” Robinson said.

Robinson, a lengthy 6-foot-5-inch, 240 pound sophomore defensive end, was part of a defensive line group that lacked experience heading into an eventual 8-4 regular season under coach Bobby Petrino.

While questions lingered on the defensive front, the experience at linebacker and in the secondary acted as the anchor that held the Toppers in the Sun Belt Conference as the best defense overall, statistically.

In its final year in the league, the WKU defense held opponents to a Sun Belt best 339.2 yards per game and 24.6 points per game.

The Toppers finished as the league’s fourth-best rushing defense only allowing 161.2 yards per game on the ground, including a memorable performance in a 19-7 win at home against Navy. WKU allowed just 107 yards on the ground (183 total) against the Midshipmen who, at the time, had the nation’s top rushing attack.

“Last year they said we were weak on the defensive line just because we had younger guys, but I feel like we held ourselves pretty well,” Robinson said. “There’s going to be holes, but they’re going to be filled the same as they were last year.”

With the exit of 10 lettermen from the defense, which includes NFL Draft picks linebacker Andrew Jackson and safety Jonathan Dowling, the questions are now reversed. Who will replace the likes of Jackson, Dowling, and Sun Belt Defensive Player of the Year Xavius Boyd? And how will a now experienced defensive line fare in a new conference?

“We feel like we have depth, even though we don’t have experience. We feel like we can play 22-plus guys on defense,” coach Jeff Brohm said. “They got a ton of reps in the spring and we feel if one guy doesn’t get it done and he isn’t fresh, we can put another guy in and not have much of a drop off.”

Joining Robinson on the line will be redshirt junior Gavin Rocker, who recorded 37 tackles, including 5.5 for loss and two sacks in 2013. Redshirt sophomore Devante Terrell led the Topper defensive tackles last year with 33 tackles in just eight starts.

At linebacker, WKU brings in the experience of senior Terran Williams, who has registered 53 tackles and two sacks in his career. Junior Daqual Randall started last season in two games at middle linebacker while recording 15 tackles.

Cam Thomas returns as the leader of a secondary that lost proven veterans that started a combined 108 games in Dowling, Tyree Robinson and Arius Wright.

Thomas, who is on the Jim Thorpe Award Watch List as well as a Preseason First Team All Conference USA nominee by Phil Steele and Athlon Sports, led the team with five interceptions last season.

The senior knows his leadership is important for a defense to live up to last season, but it truly relies on the next man in line to step up and do his part.

“The main thing for this defense is we all have to be our one-11. That’s us doing our part to make sure the defense as a whole completes its task, which is to win games,” Thomas said. “Coming into Conference USA, you’ve got a lot of teams that want to throw the ball. You’ve got exceptional quarterbacks that are playing on each team. We’re getting ready as a unit.”