COLUMN: WKU defense needs offense to catch up

Cole Claybourn

Last season it was the defense that struggled. In WKU’s season-opener against Kentucky on Thursday, it was the offense that seemed to be a step behind.

Star running back Bobby Rainey was held to 105 rushing yards — a relatively low total for him — and was kept out of the end zone, while junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed just nine passes for 93 yards with four interceptions.

But heading into the fourth quarter, WKU was still very much in the game, thanks to the defense.

“If we play great defense, we’re going to have a chance every ball game,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “But against a team like Kentucky, you have to take advantage of those opportunities, and we didn’t.”

WKU missed two golden opportunities to score. The first came on an incompletion to a wide open Marcus Vasquez in the first quarter that would have likely ended in a touchdown. That was followed up by an incompletion to an even more wide open Jack Doyle in the end zone in the second quarter.
Based off what happened last season, most people probably had their reservations on how good WKU’s defense could be this season. After all, this is a defense that forfeited leads four times in the fourth quarter last season and lost all three of its starting linebackers.
But sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson made sure that gap was filled in his first career start. His twelve tackles ranked second in the Sun Belt after the first week. He added on one sack and two tackles for a loss.
“He set the tone for our defense,” Taggart said. “Ever since that kid has been in there, our defense has been amazing and playing like Western Kentucky defense is supposed to play.”
The defense’s 190 yards and 14 points allowed were good enough for first in the Sun Belt.
Rainey’s 105 yards weren’t all that bad, either, as he currently leads the Sun Belt in rushing yards.
The story here?
WKU’s defense held a Southeastern Conference opponent in check the entire game. If it weren’t for the offense’s inability to convert, it’s not unrealistic to think that the Toppers begin week two with a notch in the win column.
If there’s a silver lining to come out of Thursday’s poor offensive showing, it’s that.
But WKU has many things to look ahead to, especially offensively. Not many Sun Belt defenses — or any defenses for that matter — will be able to hold Rainey to 105 yards and keep him out of the end zone. 
If the passing game continues to be as dismal as it was on Thursday, perhaps Jakes should opt to run more. He ran nine times against Kentucky, and if you take away the two times he was sacked, his numbers were fairly impressive. 
He rushed four times for at least eight yards, picking up a first down with his feet twice — once on a crucial third and seven situation.
Kentucky’s offense certainly isn’t the most high-powered in the country, but it’s likely one of the best the Toppers will face this season.
That leaves every reason to believe that the defense should be able to maintain that play all season.
When the offense finally catches up, this team might start winning some games after all.