Football notes: WKU’s secondary to be tested by Aplin, Arkansas State

Sophomore defensive back Tyree Robinson keeps Middle Tennessee wide receiver Harold Turner Jr. from catching the ball in last season’s game. Robinson and the rest of the secondary will be responsible for shutting down Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin on Saturday.

Brad Stephens

Saturday will be a telling day for WKU’s defensive backs.

Great expectations surrounded the Topper secondary in the preseason, as it allowed a Sun Belt Conference-low 186 passing yards per league game in 2010.

But the WKU defensive backs are coming off a rough outing in the Toppers’ 44-16 Sept. 17 loss to Indiana State.

Sycamore quarterback Ronnie Fouch went 14-of-24 that day, passing for 227 yards and three touchdowns in the win.

After a bye week, the WKU secondary has refocused its efforts on stopping Arkansas State quarterback Ryan Aplin.

Aplin, who threw for 2,939 yards and 21 touchdowns in 2010, drew praise from Head Coach Willie Taggart on Monday.

“(Aplin) is the real deal. He is the commander-in-chief of that offense,” Taggart said. “He does a really good job of getting rid of the ball and as an offense they do a really good job of staying out of third-and-long situations.”

However, Aplin has proven to be erratic at times this season, throwing five interceptions as compared to four touchdowns.

Sophomore cornerback Tyree Robinson said the secondary is confident about matching up with the Red Wolves’ junior.

“We’re not really worried about the quarterback — no disrespect,” Robinson said. “Our minds are just focused on getting right and getting better.”

Robinson said that going into conference play this weekend, “a lot of work has to be done” as a secondary in getting back to its 2010 Sun Belt-leading form.

“We haven’t performed our best,” Robinson said. “We need to come out with the mentality that we won’t get beat deep and we can’t get stopped. That’s what we’re striving for.”

The WKU defense spent the bye week engaged in tackling drills after Taggart said the team missed too many against Indiana State.

Senior safety Ryan Beard said he believes the extra work will pay dividends going forward.

“Last week was huge, getting back to fundamental football,” Beard said. “Doing what we need to do to be successful on defense is huge.”

Offensive line benefits from bye week

Perhaps no group drew more criticism from fans after the loss to Indiana State than the WKU offensive line.

The group struggled throughout to create lanes for senior running back Bobby Rainey, resulting in the Toppers’ reliable rushing attack being held in check for much of the game.

But offensive coordinator Zach Azzanni said Tuesday the offensive line benefitted from the bye week, and that Topper fans should see a better performance in the trenches Saturday.

“We had some work to do from that game and I think those guys took the challenge and stepped up,” Azzanni said. “In our first two games (against Kentucky and Navy) we ran the ball well and in that third game we laid an egg. I think we’ve made some strides from that.”

WKU’s offensive line is one of its most experienced units.

Senior left tackle Wes Jeffries, junior right guard Adam Smith and sophomore center Sean Conway all started at least 11 games in 2010.

Taggart said the veteran lineman “have to play up to their potential.”

“A lot of our guys aren’t doing that right now, and for whatever reason it is, our guys need to start doing it,” Taggart said. “They know we’re better than what we put out.

“We want those guys to be hungry up front. We want them to be physical. And if they’re not physical then we’re not going to be a physical football team.”

None of the team’s offensive linemen were available for comment, as the group announced during fall camp it would be boycotting media interviews until the team snaps what is now a 17-game home losing streak.