Through seven games of the 2017 season, WKU’s defense has allowed only 140 points – the fewest for a Hilltopper group since 2003.
But that mark will be tested Saturday when Florida Atlantic (4-3, 3-0 C-USA) comes to town for a 3:30 p.m. kickoff in Houchens-Smith Stadium. In their past five contests, the Owls have scored 241 points (48.2 per game), and defensive coordinator Clayton White recognizes what the visitors are capable of.
“Those guys do a good job of spreading the ball out and utilizing their talent,” he said. “Their tempo is huge and that offense is productive and has been a challenge. Our guys have to get out to the game and really adjust to it well, get the call and get their eyes to the sideline.”
Part of that adjusting has been on the part of reserves stepping up to fill the spots of injuries without missing a beat. Those include defensive lineman Julien Lewis and safety Kyle Bailey, who played more than maybe expected in WKU’s 35-31 victory at Old Dominion last week.
Bailey, in particular, went over 70 snaps in the secondary although he was listed as third at his position on the depth chart going into the contest. The true freshman responded with a career-high nine tackles and his first-career interception off a Drell Greene tipped pass in the second quarter, which led to a Hilltopper touchdown with a drive starting in Monarch territory.
“The young guys have to step up,” White said. “What I like about them is the way they practice.
“We preach all the time, ‘You never know when your time’s going to get called.’ Kyle was the third-string free safety. And within two plays, just that fast, with Devon Key and Marcus Ward out, he’s on the field. I was very proud of how he performed.”
During their four-game win streak, the WKU (5-2, 3-1 C-USA) defense has scored as many points (seven) as it has allowed in the fourth quarter (seven). The Hilltoppers on the sideline know it will take that kind of effort once again to potentially match Florida Atlantic in the East Division standings at 4-1 in Conference USA play.
“On film, it looks like they’ve improved a lot, and their record speaks for itself,” senior defensive lineman Chris Johnson said. “We have to come here with our mindset ready to play … They’re on our side, so in order for us to go to to the conference championship for the third consecutive time, we have to win this game. We’re all locked in.”
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