OUT OF BOUNDS: Western defense isn’t bringing beef, they’re just bringing it

Kyle Hightower

When you think football players, it’s hard not to think of big, bulky guys in big, clunky pads romping around hitting other big and bulky guys in big and clunky pads.

A close female acquaintance of mine is even adamant about referring to watching Western football – and any football for that matter – as looking at a bunch of gorillas frolicking around for 60 minutes.

I don’t quite see it, but hey, it’s her observation.

Regardless of some people’s perceptions and mental images surrounding the gridiron, there is at least one truism when it comes to Western football players:

If you’re looking for big and bulky, on the offensive side they got ’em, but on the defensive side they don’t got ’em.

Don’t look at me like that.? I know Western does have some big dudes.?

Heck, I know I’m skin and bones anyway, and standing next to some Western players I’m sure I look like one of their little cousins.? So I’m not saying they are a total group of not large people.

But by college football standards, size-wise, Western football players are Baby Big Reds, on the defensive side of the ball most notably.

They just make up for it in the intangible ways that a coach can’t get simply by recruiting based on size.

And what is even more interesting about the Toppers’ case is that their undersized defense is the main reason they’re 4-3, regardless of the 56-7 score you saw Saturday.

Because while Saturday was a big step for Jason Michael and the offense in its ongoing quest to develop an identity, the defense has made the journey possible and kept Western in the Gateway hunt.

Here are a few numbers to ponder.?

In Western’s 14-0 conference-opening loss to Western Illinois, the Toppers’ offensive line had a 31-pound advantage to the WIU defensive line, while the D-line gave up 39 pounds to the Leathernecks’ offensive line.? Western’s defensive backs also surrendered 21 pounds to WIU’s wide receivers.

The offense laid an egg. The defense gave up a manageable two scores.

Same story in Western’s 13-7 win over then-No. 11 Youngstown State: 43-pound advantage for the offensive line, 35-pound disadvantage on defensive line and 18-pound disadvantage for the DB’s.

The offense was anemic again, but the D gave up just one touchdown.

And against Florida International, the Toppers had 44-pounds up front on offense, gave up 25 pounds up front on defense and trailed by 27 pounds DB’s to receivers.? While Western pounded out 497 yards of total offense, the defense only surrendered 67 yards, including -7 rushing for FIU.

Now you tell me, which is more impressive?

How have they done it?? Junior cornerback Jeremy Chandler (5’9” and 160 pounds), who had two interceptions against FIU, said that what Western lacks in prototypical size, they make up for in heart.

Junior linebacker Erik Dandy (5’10”, 205 pounds soaking wet and holding a baby) again led the Toppers’ defensive assault with eight tackles and two sacks.? He also mentioned that thing called heart, noting that Western doesn’t need big guys to be successful.

“It proves there’s a place for it in college football,” Coach Jack Harbaugh said.? “People think sometimes that you have to go out and recruit 290-pound linemen all the time to be successful, and it’s not necessarily true.

“In college football there is a place for guys.? What we have created with the smaller, faster guys is quick defense that is hard to block. And Florida International found that out (Saturday night).”

And if speed and agility is truly the staple of defensive coordinator David Elson’s attack, then Western has the thoroughbreds to put it in a good position coming down the stretch of the conference schedule.

While it would be nice to see the offense stride alongside its mighty-mite defense, for now they are doing just fine – big and bulky or not.

Kyle Hightower’s column appears on Tuesday and occasionally on Thursday.? You can reach him at 745-6291 or by e-mail at [email protected]