WKU’s struggling defense prepares for pass-happy Indiana offense

Brad Stephens

If football is a game that’s about exposing your opponent’s weaknesses, one would imagine Indiana can’t wait to roll out their spread attack Saturday afternoon in Smith Stadium.

Hoosier quarterback Ben Chappell racked up almost 3,000 yards passing a year ago, and Indiana returns standout receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher.

WKU’s defense, on the other hand?

The Toppers started the year by allowing an average of 56 points per game in losses to Nebraska and Kentucky.

Free safety Mark Santoro said the team’s two big problem areas were getting off the field on third down attempts and allowing too many big plays.

Kentucky converted on 8 of 12 third down attempts. Also, through the first two games the Toppers have given up four touchdowns that went at least 30 yards.

“Once we get an offense in a third down situation, we’ve got to get off the field and get our offense the ball,” Santoro said. “And we’ve got to make them drive. If they put a 10- or 12-play drive together then alright, but you can’t give up that two-play drive where they go 80 yards on us.”

Preparing for Indiana’s pass attack has been a different challenge than preparing for Nebraska and Kentucky’s run-based offenses, Santoro said.

“What we’re going to see this week is three receivers, four receivers, sometimes five receivers,” he said. “UK was more of a run-oriented team but this week (Indiana) is going to throw the ball as much as they can. They’re going to spread it out and get it to their big receivers.

“It’s not too big of an adjustment because we’ve seen it before, but it takes a week of preparation and just trying to get guys as comfortable as we can with this new kind of offense.”

However, Indiana’s passing attack will not only target WKU’s secondary on long balls, but will test the Toppers’ linebacking corps as well.

Linebacker Chris Bullard said WKU has been emphasizing pass drops during position drills.

“The last two weeks we’ve been able to get away with not getting as deep as we needed to,” Bullard said, “I feel like this week there’s been more emphasis on getting deeper, getting re-routes, and just little things that you don’t think matter but actually do.

“When you’re playing a team that’s going to expose you in the areas you’re weak in you’ve got to be on top of that.”

Another area that needed work after the Nebraska game was team tackling.

Several average gains turned into big plays for Nebraska backs because of sloppy tackling, but Santoro said that wasn’t as much of a problem in the last game against Kentucky.

“Tackling actually improved from Nebraska to Kentucky,” he said. “We missed a lot less tackles, but we were out of position a little bit more.”

Bullard said the Toppers have continued to focus on tackling drills during full-pad practices Tuesday and Wednesday.

“We’ve been working on getting your head across,” Bullard said. “Stopping people from getting extra yards after contact.”