Sparky Notes: Defense showing improvement, offense still needs time to warm up

Sparky Notes is football reporter Wyatt Sparkman’s weekly column that serves to dissect WKU Football’s most recent game.

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Steve Roberts, WKU Athletics

WKU redshirt linebacker Will Ignont (23), freshman running back Noah Whittington (20) and redshirt junior wide receiver Daewood Davis (18) stand at the ready on the sidelines during WKU’s 34-19 victory over FIU in Miami, Florida on Oct. 23, 2021.

Wyatt Sparkman, Football reporter

The WKU football program won its second consecutive Conference USA road game Saturday night in a dominant, but not complete, 34-19 win over FIU. The defense continued to make strides, but the offense still had some trouble thawing out.

The defense gets better and better

WKU’s defense the past two weeks has allowed its lowest point total of the season, holding ODU to 20 points and FIU to just 19. The defense allowed 290 yards against FIU Saturday night, its lowest mark of the year. 

The Hilltopper defense stepped up and sacked FIU quarterback Max Bortenschlager a whopping seven times. This pass rush seems to step up when the team needs it most. WKU’s first sack came at the end of the first quarter when the Panthers entered Hilltopper territory looking to go up two possessions. 

The second sack came on the next play to shatter the promising possession. Another pair of sacks came on a drive in the third quarter when FIU held possession near midfield. 

All of WKU’s sacks came within 10 yards of midfield or in Hilltopper territory and five came when the Hilltoppers had the lead. Defensive coordinator Maurice Crum was right when he said that the pass rush just needed an opportunity to “pin its ears back.” 

The Hilltopper defense has almost quadrupled its sack total on the season in the past two games, going from five to 17. The WKU defense played its best game from start to finish, but is still looking for a complete performance.

This defense still needs to improve at not allowing a first possession score and also needs to limit the big play. 

FIU struck for a 75-yard touchdown in the second quarter on a pass from Bortenschlager to wideout Randall St. Felix. The 75-yard touchdown was just bad defense – redshirt junior cornerback Dominique Bradshaw got beat on a double move with what looked to be single high-coverage from the WKU defense. 

Crum looks like he’s settling in, but the defense still has some things to clean up before it faces a high-powered Charlotte offense. 

Still slow out of the gate

The Hilltopper offense came out with another slow start. WKU had two three-and-outs to start the game before freshman Malachi Corley fumbled a would-be touchdown on its third possession. WKU didn’t score until it’s fifth drive, which was in the second quarter. 

WKU tallied 35 yards of offense in the first quarter but finished the outing with 530 yards total. This offense has yet to play a complete four quarters of football this season. The Hilltoppers have only scored three points in their seven opening drives.

WKU has scored 41 points in the first quarter of games this season. This is a drastic point difference to WKU’s second quarters, which have yielded 102 points. This offense is ranked 11th in the nation with a 40 points per game average while being second in the nation in yards per game. 

Just imagine if WKU’s offense was getting off to hot starts consistently.

WKU went scoreless in the first quarter of both the Army and Indiana games, losing to Army by three and Indiana by two. Some of this falls partially on the defense, but these Hilltoppers are capable of scoring points to start games to put the defense in the best possible position to do what it does best: rush the passer. 

This program is a lot better than what its record indicates and its best football is still yet to be played. 

Football reporter Wyatt Sparkman can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @wyattsparkman3.