WKU wins 20-13 over UAB

UAB Blazers tight end Gerrit Prince is tackled by WKU defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone (left) and defensive back Devon Key (right) during WKU’s 20-13 win over UAB on Sept. 28 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The upcoming test is timely.

Western Kentucky’s defense has one-upped itself for each game in Conference USA, with its latest performance better than the previous. That unit most recently had its best display by holding Old Dominion to 163 yards in a 20-3 win.

Next up is Army and its triple-option offense that always merits extra preparation beyond game week and precise discipline to defensive assignments.

“They’ve had different tests every week and it’s just another great challenge for them,” WKU coach Tyson Helton said at his weekly news conference Monday. “It’s something they haven’t seen a lot of and they’ll have to be ready and they’re going to make plays. Army is going to make their plays and they’re going to make it a good football game. We’ve got to be able to position ourselves where we have to limit their explosive plays. Just can’t give them anything easy.”

The Hilltopper defense has been the team’s biggest strength and a reason the team is 3-2, one game away from the halfway point of the year. WKU hasn’t allowed a touchdown in the fourth quarter in its last four games and has not given up a touchdown in the second half in all three conference matchups.

Against the run, WKU is allowing just 109 yards per game and 2.8 yards per rush. That bodes well for the Hilltoppers with the ultimate measurement of that strength coming against Army.

WKU won its only two contests against Army in 2013 and 2014 and no player on the current team has had to defend a triple-option team. The Black Knights finished the 2018 season 11-2 and ranked No. 19 in The Associated Press poll. They’re off to a 3-2 start with losses to Michigan and Tulane with wins over Rice, Texas-San Antonio and Morgan State.

Army’s triple-option is the eighth-best rushing offense in the country at 273 yards per game. Connor Slomka leads the team with 308 rushing yards and quarterback Kelvin Hopkins Jr. has five rushing touchdowns on 253 yards.

“It’s obviously hard to defend and it limits your possessions offensively, so we have to make the most of our possessions,” Helton said. “I think about (defensive ends) DeAngelo Malone or Juwuan (Jones) and their best skill-traits and how do you utilize them to play the triple option? How do you position your linebackers? You’re facing something you don’t ever see.

“The biggest thing for our defense is needing second-and-long situations. This offense is built on three- to four-yard gains. It’s a long, slow death and they’re consistent on that.”

WKU spent portions of the spring and fall camps working on the triple option so that it’s not a new concept when game week preparation arrives. Helton said they designated 10 minutes in the spring and a whole period (about 15 minutes) each day in fall camp.

“Our guys have gotten a lot of reps just to prepare for it because there’s so much you have to be ready for,” Helton said. “You just can’t install it in game week. There’s a lot of retention there about what we have to do tomorrow, so they understand the calls and understand what they need to be in. That’s helped a lot for our defense.”{&end}

– Follow WKU athletics beat writer Elliott Pratt on Twitter @EPrattBGDN or visit bgdailynews.com.

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