WKU's defense concerned with explosive ODU offense

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Old Dominion has weapons.

That will be Western Kentucky’s largest concern at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium– not only how to stop the Monarchs, but who to stop and when to stop them.

“You cannot key on one guy with ODU. It’s never been that way,” WKU defensive coordinator Clayton White said. “You have to really understand the system and plan, not only just the call, but understand the gameplan, what we’re trying to get done and what we’re trying to stop and what we’re trying to force them to do.

“They’ve been a productive offense over the years. I think we have to do a great job of containing them. They have really big wide receivers. I think we gotta understand our matchups and understand where our help’s at and take our advantages against that and vice versa. That’s kind of the plan going into it.”

White, like WKU (1-5, 0-2 Conference USA), is undefeated against the Monarchs. As an assistant coach at North Carolina State he was a part of three wins over ODU from 2014-16 before helping the Tops to a 35-31 victory in Norfolk, Va., last year.

To keep that unblemished record White will have to devise a defense to control an Old Dominion attack that has eight different players who have accounted for at least one touchdown this season.

“They’ve always been athletic. Their system is very productive and they obviously pass for a lot of yards,” White said. “They have so many different skill players from (Hasaan Patterson, Jonathan Duhart, Keion White, Travis Fulgham, Isaiah Harper), it just never stops. They have, like, six tight ends on their roster. They have running backs that come in – it’s just the amount of athletes that they have.”

Despite ODU’s 1-6 record and five-game conference losing streak dating back to 2017, the Monarchs have undoubtedly shown the ability to explode on the offensive side of the ball. No better example of that than during its impressive 632-yard output during a 49-35 win over No. 10 Virginia Tech on Sept. 22.

Blake LaRussa threw for 495 yards in that game and has been running the show ever since. The junior QB is completing 63.6 percent of his passes this year.

Jeremy Cox (recently slowed by an ankle injury) and Desean Strong have combined to rush for 512 yards and eight touchdowns and the trio of Duhart (737 yards, six TDs), Fulgham (489 yards, four TDs) and Harper (257 yards, TD) at wide receiver may be the best threesome in the league.

“They’re always gonna be a tough opponent – you look back at our past games they’ve always been good games,” WKU linebacker Ben Holt said. “They’ve always been well-coached, good running backs, good O-line, big wide receivers – so it’s gonna be a fun game.”

As previously mentioned, WKU has never lost to Old Dominion – but it has surrendered 34 points per game in four meetings. That should be a concern given Western laid a defensive egg last week in a 40-14 loss to Charlotte coupled with ODU having the league’s third-best pass offense.

“Obviously, Saturday was embarrassing for our defense,” Holt said. “We’re not gonna let that happen again so we needed to just go back to work.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop