Several linebackers anchor WKU defense

Senior Chuck Franks (25), left, and senior Xavius Boyd (13) tackle South Alabama’s Montell Garner (16) during the first half of WKUÕs game against South Alabama on Sept. 14 at Ladd-Peebles Stadium in Mobile, Ala.

Lucas Aulbach

The guy everyone has heard of is Andrew Jackson, but WKU has several other linebackers that have begun to play a major role in the Topper defense this season.

Jackson, a senior, is the man in the middle, but the top performer at the position so far this year has been senior Xavius Boyd.

Boyd has been a consistent starter since his freshman season in 2010, but he saved his best performances for WKU (1-2, 0-1 Sun Belt Conference) for this year. He leads the Topper defense in total tackles (35), tackles for loss (6.5) and sacks (3.5) three games into the 2013 season.

Jackson, WKU’s middle linebacker, has started two games and has racked up 19 tackles himself, while sophomore Daqual Randall and senior Chuck Franks have seen playing time as well.

Franks, who has recorded five tackles so far this year, said he’s been pleased by the collective play of the linebackers through the first three games.

“I’ve done a lot contribute to the team by playing my role and doing what I’m supposed to do on the field as well as the other two linebackers,” Franks said Monday. “Andrew Jackson has done a good job this season as well as Xavius Boyd, and also the other backup linebackers, (junior) Terran Williams and Daquall Randall. They’ve been doing well also.”

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt is in his first year leading the WKU defense.

He said while Jackson and Boyd have stood out to him as playmakers so far this season, the defense needs them to give their best effort on every play if the Toppers are going to succeed this year.

“They’re two guys that need that day-in and day-out play-in and play-out — to be consistent in all their plays,” Holt said. “That’s not happening on a 100-percent basis, and we need to get that going. They need to play more consistent.”

Last season the linebackers had the benefit of playing behind a defensive line that had four experienced seniors — they aren’t that lucky this season.

WKU has replaced its entire starting defensive line from a year ago, with middling results so far. The Toppers giving up 200 rushing yards per game on average so far this season.

The holes in the defense have caused some changes to the starting lineup. Randall replaced Jackson at middle linebacker at the start of the game against South Alabama, one of many changes WKU made to the starting lineup at the start of the game.

Coach Bobby Petrino said the starting lineup will be determined moving forward by who gives the best effort in practice in the week leading up to the game — Randall impressed him most that week, he said.

“We need to learn as a team that you go out and you earn the right to win on the practice field with your effort,” Petrino said. “We go out there and we grade our effort and the guys that gave the best effort will start the game.”