WKU Football returned to the field for its second of 11 practices leading up to the Popeye’s Bahamas Bowl on Friday afternoon as it continued its work for a postseason rematch with Mid-American Conference foe Central Michigan.
The Hilltoppers’ No. 6 ranked offense grabbed most of the headlines during the 2014 regular season but the defensive unit showed up big on plenty of occasions throughout another seven-win campaign. WKU was the only team in the country to score four defensive touchdowns of 80 yards or longer and scored five total. Of those five, three came in game-winning or game-clinching fashion in the fourth quarter.
The defense continually made red zone stops and ranked 21st nationally with an opponent red zone score percentage rate of 75. In WKU’s last three home games it held opponents to 320.3 yards per game and under 20 points per game while surrendering only a 38 percent conversion rate on third down. The Hilltoppers won a 67-66 shootout with Marshall in the regular-season finale but despite surrendering 66 points, they forced a season-high four turnovers.
The captain of the Hilltopper defense, redshirt senior defensive back Cam Thomas, told the local media Friday that the late-season improvement was just a matter of gaining experience and confidence.
“I knew we would come around, it just took time,” said Thomas. “It’s a young group. Guys didn’t play a lot of football together. In previous years we had guys who had been together since we came in. To have those (young) guys come in late in the season and get their mojo back – it was great.”
“A lot of negativity came around this defense this year and sometimes you’re going to love them and you’re going to hate them but we got the job done the last four games. We plan on doing it this game.”
Thomas and the Hilltopper defense became used to aerial attacks in Conference USA play but in the Bahamas Bowl they will be challenged with a potent Central Michigan ground game that churns out nearly 160 yards per contest.
The Bahamas Bowl will be played at 11 a.m. (CT) on Dec. 24 and will be broadcast nationally by ESPN with Steve Levy, Lou Holtz and Mark May on the call. The Hilltoppers will continue their prep for Central Michigan on Saturday with a morning practice session.