One of the problems Western Kentucky’s defense faced earlier in the year was allowing big plays. As the Hilltoppers have progressed, so has their ability to prevent such plays from happening and being the difference in winning and losing.

It’s still a concern, though, especially with Conference USA’s best passing offense coming up Saturday.

WKU (6-4 overall, 4-2 Conference USA) hasn’t given up many big pass plays lately but knows what it has facing quarterback Jack Abraham and Southern Miss at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in Hattiesburg, Miss.

The Golden Eagles (7-3, 5-1) have the best passing offense and the best wide receiver statistically in the conference. The chemistry between the QB and Quez Watkins is why Southern Miss is in the hunt with Louisiana Tech for the C-USA West Division title.

“This bye week was special for us, getting more time and watching film and watching their pass concepts because they’re a good passing team,” WKU safety Antwon Kincade said. “The bye week worked in our favor.”

Southern Miss is averaging a league-best 297.5 passing yards per game and 9.5 yards per pass attempt. Its 6.5 yards per play also ranks first in C-USA and ties for 19th nationally. Of the teams on WKU’s schedule, only Louisville has put up numbers higher than Southern Miss.

WKU defensive coordinator Clayton White and head coach Tyson Helton sat down during the bye week and reviewed the explosive plays the Hilltoppers have allowed this season. Although they allowed just 87 passing yards at Arkansas two weeks ago, running back Rakeem Boyd scored on touchdown runs of 76 and 86 yards.

WKU has allowed eight passes all season to go over 40 yards. Kincade and the defensive backs have been the 14th-best pass defense nationally, allowing 181.5 yards per game.

“Clayton and I were able to sit down and say what were some of the explosive plays people were able to hit against us over the past three or four weeks,” Helton said. “We started repping those in practice because I’m sure Southern Miss will test us to see if we fixed those problems.”

Abraham carried momentum into the season after completing 73 percent of his passes in his first season at QB for Southern Miss as a redshirt sophomore. The Mississippi native is right behind WKU quarterback Ty Storey as the most accurate C-USA QBs with a 69.6 completion rate.

His 2,924 passing yards leads the conference with the help of league-leading wide receiver Watkins, who averages 115.1 receiving yards per game. For perspective, WKU’s Lucky Jackson averages 30 yards fewer per game and ranks second in the conference.

Watkins averages 20.9 yards per completion, but the Golden Eagles have a mix of receivers that allow Watkins to work. Tim Jones and Jaylond Adams each average over 50 receiving yards per game.

“To me, they’re balanced,” White said. “People think they’re a passing team, but they can run the ball very well. I think they have more than one receiver. They have three or four guys that can stretch the football field and that’s what makes (Watkins) pretty good because he has other brothers beside him that can get it done.”

Kincade compared Watkins to Treylon Burks, one of Arkansas’s most dynamic receivers, and said similarities are there when preparing back-to-back weeks for a deep threat.

“We double covered him and everything like that,” Kincade said. “Coach White has some tendencies for us to get after him, but he’s like all other receivers to us, we’re going to get after him the best we can.”{&end}

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


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