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September 30, 2009

Still Work To Do On Defense

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It's hard to get much of a gauge after facing a system unlike any other WKU will see the rest of the season.

The biggest thing the Toppers took away from their defensive performance at Navy was not so much in how they performed, but how their opposition played and handled itself.

"That team is so disciplined, I don't know how many penalties they had, but I think it was about three," senior cornerback Jihad Morris said. "To have three penalties and the games prior, they just don't commit very many penalties, they don't have that many missed assignments, they execute. They gameplan, they definitely execute and they hit on all cylinders. If we can just apply that to special teams, offense and defense, just hit on every cylinder, we're destined for success."

The Midshipmen proved even more disciplined than Morris though, finishing the game with just two penalties for ten yards.

WKU finished with ten penalties for 57 yards, but it was up front and where the most work might need to be done. Navy ran 64 times for 383 yards, steadily picking up first downs, 26 in all. Now, as the Toppers face their first bye week, there's a few changes to be made.

"We've just gotta be better up front, winning at the line of scrimmage, linebackers playing more downhill and square," coach David Elson said. "Honestly, just being more overall physical and square and knocking people back and controlling the line of scrimmage and blocks up front. We've gotta come out and do a good job against the run beginning Sun Belt Conference play. We've gotta get that under control so we can get people in long yardage situations."

This week, leading up to Saturday's bye might be more about rest than anything. A number of players are banged up and either sitting out or being limited in practice.

"I don't try to let (injuries) change us hardly at all," Elson said. "We didn't go any live today with those guys. We did yesterday and I just wanted to, we probably won't tomorrow, we'll just keep 'em up. I think you need to do some live work like we did yesterday, anytime during an off week. Other than that, if anybody's down, that just gives another guy and opportunity to get those reps and develop depth."

Junior linebacker Thomas Majors has been the biggest playmaker thus far, with a team-high 37 tackles. He's followed by sophomore safety Mark Santoro, with 35 tackles.

Majors said there's still improvement to be made. And though the defense has had its struggles, the confidence is still there.

"We're still gonna get after it every Saturday," he said. "Every time we step on the field, we're trying to get out the best we can. We just have to play harder and go a little harder than we've been going."

Navy is by no means the perfect example of how to play. But by taking a look at how their last opponent stayed focused and got things done, the Toppers are hoping to use that discipline to remedy some of the problems they've had thus far. Through the first four games, WKU has surrendered nearly 2,000 yards of total offense.

"We basically just took out of Navy technique things and stuff we need to do technique-wise that we should've done against Navy We're taking that and trying to put that in our defense so we can get better.

But there's still no one cure all to WKU's defensive ills.

"I can't put my finger right on it, but I can just say that as far as practice goes, we're working harder, paying more attention to the little things," Morris said. "We're just pulling together as a team in this hardship. It's hard being 0-4, but we're trying to stay together."

A young team is still getting through the tough times. But it's getting through it together.

Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at WKU's Wednesday practice, including a full, in-depth injury report.

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