Normally, it's not a good sign when members of the secondary are a defense's leading tacklers. It might signal that the opposing offense is getting through the levels of the defense.
But this week, sophomore safety Mark Santoro already knows that he and his fellow defensive backs will be shouldering a good portion of the tackling load defending Navy's triple-option offensive attack.
"First of all, we've really gotta read our keys," he said. "It's basically and offense that runs on one on one situations. We're gonna be out there kinda one on one with the ball carrier, so it's gonna come down to us to make some tackles. I think you'll see the safeties making a lot of tackles this week. We've just gotta read our keys well and come down and make the play."
WKU has a weapon of its own against the rushing attack in defensive coordinator Mike Dietzel, who coached an option game himself as running backs coach at Army from 1995-99.
A good portion of what Dietzel does Saturday defending the option will depend on the secondary's ability to be disciplined.
"The biggest thing with that, the tendency is you wanna look at the ball carrier," coach David Elson said. "But you've gotta look the ball in, you've gotta use your hands, look those blocks in and defeat the block first. If you're looking at the runner with the ball, that guy's gonna come and chop you and you're not gonna have a chance."
Navy has also shown an ability to pass when necessary this season, though it doesn't happen often. The Midshipmen threw for 156 yards at Ohio State and have thrown for 348 yards overall in three games.
Elson said Navy won't change this weekend but the Toppers will have to be ready for the occasional pass.
"That's the danger of it is you've got to be conscious of it for 60 minutes, otherwise it could really burn you," he said. "You've just gotta really stick to your guns on stopping the run, then those two corners, the safety's gotta really key on the wingbacks because they'll get wheel routes and all of that stuff. The corners, they've just gotta play their outside quarter and be smart with it."
Elson has also said before that WKU will have to also anticipate the cut-blocks down field that are a part of the option.
"We've been doing a lot of extra cut drills," sophomore safety Ryan Beard said. "The prep guys have done a really good job this week, getting us ready for that. They've given us really good looks off the line, coming out and cutting us with the tackles and the guards."
Beard returned from a two-game suspension Saturday against Central Arkansas for violating team rules. He said it took some time to get back into things, but that he's mostly glad to be back. He also said he learned a few things from his suspension.
"It made me grow up a lot," he said. "I had to figure out who and what's important in my life and change some things and really focus on football, school and family. That's all that really matters in life anyway."
WKU will need Beard and the rest of the defensive backs to play smart against Navy in order to not get run off the field. A lot of it will occur on the perimeter, in fighting off blocks that will move down field.
"You've got to look the block in and not be looking past it, because it'll be like a bunch of cherry trees getting chopped down in the old day," Elson said. "You've seen some teams that just aren't ready for it and man, it can be a really long day if you're not smart with it."
Santoro, Beard and the other defensive backs will have plenty of tackling to do. But there's no more pressure in knowing what's coming.
"I think it just puts a little pressure on us knowing that we have to play one of our better games of the year if we wanna come out with a victory," Santoro said. "I guess you could say it's gonna come down to us a little bit, but guys are ready for it. We've had a good week of practice, we've just gotta read our keys, come downhill and make a tackle."
Check Out InsideHilltopperSports.com's insider's only look at WKU's Wednesday practice, including an injury report.
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