Scattered showers and high winds affected several of Western Kentucky University’s athletic events Saturday, but Mother Nature couldn’t prevent the Hilltopper defense from controlling the second of three spring scrimmages at L.T. Smith Stadium/Jimmy Feix Field.
In addition to recording four turnovers, the unit scored points with both a safety and a fumble recovery for a touchdown while ending the day allowing just 201 total yards on 77 snaps.
Jon Belcher was credited with 2.5 stops for loss among his seven tackles, and Dan Cline added a pair of sacks to go along with two passes defensed to lead the unit. Ben Sowders collected 2.5 tackles in addition to recovering a fumble, while Jihad Morris chipped in with six stops and Travis Watters added five. L.J. Harbison recorded four total tackles — including 1.5 behind the line of scrimmage — and broke up a pass, and Marion Rumph intercepted two passes and broke up another.
“Both of our inside linebackers, L.J. and Darvis McBride, stepped up today,” said WKU head coach David Elson. “That’s a place where we have to have more productivity. And, the guy who I think has taken the next step and is starting to look like a Division I defensive lineman is Dan Cline — you just see his confidence growing each and every day that he’s out here. It all starts with guys getting the job done up front, and I think we are starting to get some good leadership and chemistry from Dan, Chris Walker and Entonia Johnson.”
Walker was the Topper who scored on defense after a fumble on a reverse that began at the offense’s 24-yard line was kicked into the end zone. Belcher sacked David Wolke in the end zone with the offense starting at its own 3-yard line for the unit’s other points. Rumph’s first interception ended a first-half drive in which the offense began at midfield, while his second pick came on the next-to-last series of the scrimmage.
In fact, it took the offense five series to record a first down as the defense allowed only 13 yards on the first 12 plays.
Wolke ended the streak when he connected twice with Dustin Boyer for five yards. On the next series, K.J. Black used a big play — a 41-yard pass to Jessie Quinn down the right sideline — to set up the first points of the day. After Quinn was forced out at the 2-yard line, Tyrell Hayden scored on the next snap going around the right end.
The defense didn’t allow any points when the offense began at the 50, but did surrender six after Chris James hit field goals from 36 and 41 yards out after the offense started at the defense’s 25-yard line. On the last series beginning at the 25, Black led a seven-play drive that ended when Jake Gaebler scored on a reverse from 4 yards out.
Those would be the last points the group would muster on the day. Wolke finished with 116 yards of total offense, passing for 65 yards while adding a team-best 51 rushing. Black added 87 yards passing, while K.J. Austin-Bruce chipped in with 30 yards on seven carries. Quinn had three receptions for 59 yards to lead the Toppers, while Boyer caught four passes and Gaebler grabbed three as both finished with 19 yards.
“I was glad to see our offense bounce back and put the ball in the end zone a couple of times when they had good field position, and I thought K.J. threw the ball well,” Elson stated. “The concern would be that the offense needs to be able to sustain a long drive. They are doing good things and moving the ball at times, but a couple of bad snaps that have plagued us before hurt their momentum late.”
WKU will have two more practices before the annual Red-White spring game is held at Smith Stadium on Saturday, April 21. The Toppers will conclude Tuesday afternoon’s session with a mini-scrimmage, and will also work out in just helmets Thursday.