Five Things We Learned from WKU's 38-21 Victory Over Florida International
After several weeks of hard to watch football and stinging losses, WKU has put together a two-game win streak. This week, the Tops put on a very impressive showing against FIU for the win. Let's see what five things we learned from the Tops last home game of the season.
Defense Doin' Work
Credit this win to a stout defensive effort from the Tops this week. Clearly, Coach White's boy's built on what they did last week and stepped into this game ready to make a statement. Sure, the defense went against a Florida International squad that hasn't won a game in four tries coming into Saturday. So... yes, there should be some expectation from WKU's defense that it would be dominant. But there are definitely no guarantees, as we have seen this season.
Game balls need to go to Eli Brown, DeAngelo Malone, Devon Key, Roger Cray and Antwon Kincade. As impressive as the defense was overall, these five seniors were truly gamechangers. DeAngelo Malone's forced fumble and Cray's scoop and score shifted the momentum and the Tops never looked back. Add in Brown's pick-six and a Key and Kincade each collecting 10 tackles, the defense looked about as good as it has all season.
The defense was more opportunistic than in weeks previous, swatting down balls and making FIU's offense uncomfortable in the latter stages of the game. This is where WKU's defense excels. I'm glad to see the defense (especially the seniors) has its mojo back and got to put on a display for the home crowd one last time.
Run for Daylight
Finally... finally... its been a long time since Gaej Walker has seen a 100+ yard game. He finally got there again on Saturday. Walker looked as explosive as ever while racking up 127 yards on 17 carries, including a 54-yard blast to set up a touchdown. Jakari Moses also chipped in 43 yards on 6 runs.
This is a good sign for the Tops. The running game has not been strong the past few weeks. Walker couldn't find holes to run through. While his offensive line had trouble giving him time and space to work. Now don't get it twisted, it was a much improved performance by the Tops running game, but by no means its best in recent memory.
Quarterback Tyrell Pigrome was much more efficient in his runs this week as well. Only 9 runs and 2 of them were short runs for touchdowns. That is the best use of Piggy T from the running standpoint at this point. Let your workhorses loose and establish the run.
Work in Progress
I will give Pigrome credit for another aspect of his game this week. For the second week, he has seemed more disciplined as a passer. Save a few plays where he reverted to the old Piggy T, the graduate transfer, stayed in box more and allowed the plays to unfold before making a move. Although he only threw for 121 yards, he did it on 14-25 attempts, which is a step forward in my opinion. His longest pass was for 16 yards while the rest averaged around 10 yards. Yet he was able to get his receivers involved in the game. Six different receivers got the bread put in their basket Saturday as Pigrome has looked to pass more than run. While the Topper defense was still the star of the show, Piggy T did provide enough help by scoring, that the defense could work hard but also get some much needed rest on the sidelines.
Last week, I gave props to Brayden Narveson for his kicking prowess. I guess, John Haggerty wanted in on the action because this week he had a monster day. He averaged 53 yards on 6 punts against FIU, with 4 of them pinning the Panthers inside the 20. Everyone knows this Aussie has an NFL-caliber leg, but his numbers have been mostly average all season. However, against FIU, he had his breakout game of the season. His contributions made it that much harder for the Pathers to get any traction against the highly motivated Topper defense I mentioned earlier.
It's fair to say Haggerty has a legit shot to ply his craft in the NFL next season and a game like he had Saturday made his case much stronger. His impact on the special teams of WKU will be missed next year.
Third Down Blunder
To say that WKU hates third downs would be an understatement. All season third down have been the kryptonite that WKU just hasn't been able to fight off. Don't believe me? WKU was 39 of 121 coming into the game against the FIU! That means the Red and White only completed 32 percent of these tries. OUCH! However, Saturday might have been the worst outing of the season. The Tops only converted on ONE third down out of 11 tries. Let's be honest... that's beyond bad.
Naturally, you try to avoid getting to third down if possible because you find yourself between a rock and a hard place against good defenses. However, the Tops have generally not been solid in moving the chains on first and second downs this season, often leaving plenty of yards left to make up. So it stands to reason that extra attention needs to be paid to what plays are being called on third down. This is the Achilles heel that has cost the Tops several games.
There's only one game left in the regular season. My hope is that next week against Charlotte, the stat line for third downs is a whole lot better than what we saw this week.