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What's Wrong with the Hilltopper Defense?

Western Kentucky head coach Jeff Brohm has his work cut out for him this season after his Hilltoppers lost to UAB at home last week. UAB outscored the Hilltoppers 28-12 in the second half to win the game 42-39. WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty continued to put up good numbers, throwing for 319 and a pair of touchdowns. Western Kentucky had what has really been a regular night offensively with 503 yards. The issue comes when we examine the flip side of things.

Brian Powers-USA TODAY Sports

UAB's offense destroyed WKU's defense on Saturday in a 42-39 win, as quarterback Cody Clements threw for 300 yards and two touchdowns while maintaining an 88% completion percentage. These impressive numbers came as a bit of a surprise to me, but I should have known better. UAB was facing the same defense that I saw give up 456 yards and three scores to Illinois quarterback Wes Lunt and 342 total yards and three touchdowns to Middle Tennessee quarterback Austin Grammer. WKU defensive coordinator Nick Holt preaches that improvement is key this season, and I totally agree with that. But has WKU's defense gotten ANY better almost half-way through the season? Let's have a look at the numbers:

Total Defense (108th in FBS: 516.8 yards allowed per game)
  • Week 1 (vs BGSU): 465 yards allowed, 0 turnovers forced
  • Week 2 (at Illinois): 520 yards allowed, 3 turnovers forced -55 yards, +3 TO (from the prior game)
  • Week 3 (at MTSU): 541 yards allowed, 0 turnovers forced -21 yards, -3 TO (from the prior game)
  • Week 5 (at Navy): 467 yards allowed, 2 turnovers forced +74 yards, +2 TO (from the prior game)
  • Week 6 (vs UAB): 591 yards allowed, 3 turnovers forced -124 yards, +1 TO (from the prior game)
As seen above, Western Kentucky's defense hasn't really improved at all, with maybe the exception of the win against Navy. Western Kentucky has a young defense- that's no secret- but its experienced secondary, led by senior CB Cam Thomas, seems plenty capable of holding their own; they've had their impressive moments, but have still constantly gotten beaten deep, short, and anywhere in between. Many of the secondary's issues sprout from poor defensive line play, but some blame has to go on defensive coordinator Nick Holt for putting his team in bad positions.

For example, WKU's cornerbacks lined up nearly 10 to 15 yards away from their receiver in man-to-man situations to avoid getting beat deep against Illinois. This wasn't a horrible game-plan initially, but after Illini QB Wes Lunt began to complete passes wherever he pleased, a game-plan change should have been made. Spoiler alert: it wasn't. Wes Lunt struggled early and nearly threw multiple interceptions, but Nick Holt elected to stay conservative which eventually led to the Illini offense to get into an unstoppable rhythm.
  
WKU Illinois

Although the Western Kentucky offense has struggled a bit to finish off opponents, they've done more than their share to win a ballgame. Jeff Brohm knows this, and I wouldn't be surprised if defensive coordinator Nick Holt is on the hot seat.

What say you, Topper fans? How much is Nick Holt to blame for WKU's struggles this season? Feel free to leave a comment!

Can the Hilltoppers turn their season around? Brohm and Holt will have some time to reflect on their defense during WKU's BYE this week. The Hilltoppers' next opponent: Florida Atlantic (Oct. 18).