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2013 Western Kentucky Preview – Defense
Western Kentucky Hilltoppers
Posted Jul 6, 2013 2013 Preview - Western Kentucky Hilltopper Defense

WKU Hilltoppers

Preview 2013 - Defense

- 2013 WKU Preview | 2013 WKU Offense
- 2013 WKU Defense | 2013 WKU Depth Chart

What You Need To Know: Veteran defensive coordinator Nick Holt inherits a terrific group that should form one of the Sun Belt’s best defenses. Andrew Jackson is a huge hitting linebacker with All-America talent and ability, and he’s flanked by strong playmakers. The secondary is full of great tacklers and a ball-hawking machine in safety Jonathan Dowling, but the group has to be tighter when the ball is in the air. The line needs the most work after losing all four starters, but there are several strong prospects waiting to shine with end Gavin Rocker a good pass rushing star in the making and a few JUCO tackles waiting to fill in the gaps.

Returning Leaders
Tackles: Andrew Jackson, 122
Sacks: Bar’ee Boyd, 3.5
Interceptions: Jonathan Dowling, 6

Star of the defense: Senior LB Andrew Jackson
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore DT Bryan Shorter
Unsung star on the rise: Sophomore DE Gavin Rocker
Best pro prospect: Jackson
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Jackson, 2) S Kiante Young, 3) S Jonathan Dowling
Strength of the defense: Back Seven, Tackling Defensive Backs
Weakness of the defense: Proven Tackles, No Quanterus Smith

Defensive Line

All four of the starting defensive linemen are gone including pass rushing star Quanterus Smith and both tackles. Adding massive bulk in the interior is 6-1, 236-pound junior Jamichael Payne, a large, squatty run stopper out of Auburn who saw a little bit of time making two tackles, but now he literally has to come up big. Also looking to come up big right away is 6-2, 274-pound sophomore Bryan Shorter, who saw a little bit of early work making five tackles and a sack in a mop-up role. He’s not massive, but he’s extremely quick in the interior.

Find pass rushers will be a bigger problem, hoping for 6-5, 264-pound senior Calvin Washington to start doing more after serving last year as a key backup. The former JUCO transfer made 12 tackles with a sack and two tackles for loss. 6-2, 230-pound sophomore Gavin Rocker got the call to start the season and replaced Smith in the final two games finishing with 14 tackles with three sacks and four tackles for loss. Extremely quick off the ball, he’s a dangerous pass rushing option who could bust out now that he has the full-time role.

Watch Out For … Maurice Bennett. The spotlight will be on a JUCO transfer to fix the glitch in the interior with the 6-2, 300-pound sophomore needing to step in and shine right away. Originally a California Bear, he went to East Mississippi CC and now comes in as a possible anchor with good quickness and pass rushing ability.
Strength: Upside. The starters might have to be replaced, but Rocker is a potential star and there are just enough good players coming in, including from the JUCO ranks, to ask for a limited drop-off, if any.
Weakness: Sure-thing producers. It’s hard to get better after losing 12.5 sack and 18.5 tackles for loss from Quanterus Smith. The tackles were good enough to help the run defense lead the Sun Belt, and Cole Tischer was a solid, steady end. It might be a little bit before everything is place.
Outlook: It’s asking a lot to get the same production, but there’s talent coming back. Can the front four get behind the line and stuff the run like last year’s line? It’s possible, but it could take a little while to find the right rotation.
Unit Rating: 5


The star of the defense, and possible the Sun Belt, is All-America candidate Andrew Jackson, a big-time hitter who was one of the key stars of a great Hilltopper defense, leading the Sun Belt with 116 tackles with 16.5 tackles for loss, two sacks and four forced fumbles. A guided missile, he was seemingly in on every running play with 19 tackles against Florida Atlantic, 15 against North Texas and 12 against both Arkansas State and Troy. The 6-1, 265-pounder is big and fast with sideline to sideline ability – he has next level talent and will have everything around the defense funneling his way.

Tye Golden is gone from the outside, but 6-1, 233-pound senior Bar’ee Boyd is ready to shine in a bigger role after being used as a pass rushing star on the outside and a starter on the strong side in the opener and the season finale. Fast and with a world of talent and athleticism, he made 28 tackles with 3.5 sacks with 6.5 tackles for loss. Back on the weakside is senior Xavius Boyd, a 6-2, 243-pound run stopper who can play either outside spot. He finished third on the team with 79 tackles and was excellent at getting behind the line with 7.5 tackles for loss. A beefed up safety playing linebacker, he can fly.

6-2. 222-pound junior Terran Williams is a quick option on the weakside who can be solid in pass coverage while also being used as a pass rusher, making 19 tackles with a sack, while 6-0, 245-pound sophomore Daqual Randall is a big backup behind Jackson in the middle, serving as the understudy before taking over next season after making four tackles in his limited time.

Watch Out For … Bar’ee Boyd. The Hilltoppers have burst from the outside from several players, but it’s Boyd who could turn out to be one of the team’s most disruptive forces. His numbers should be outstanding.
Strength: Jackson. He’s a special talent who’ll be patrolling an NFL linebacking corps next season. He’s an elite talent to work everything around.
Weakness: Pass coverage. The group was hardly bad, but it wasn’t exactly a major plus as the pass defense was left to the secondary. The linebackers attacked, attacked and attacked, and now they’re going to be asked to do a bit more.
Outlook: Jackson alone makes this a fantastic linebacking corps, but the two Boyds and a good-looking group of backups should make this one of the team’s biggest strengths.
Unit Rating: 6.5

Defensive Backs

The secondary did a nice job, helped by a fearsome pass rush, and now everyone is back led by junior free safety Jonathan Dowling, a ball-hawking playmaker who led the team with six interceptions to go along with 68 tackles with seven broken up passes. The 6-3, 198-pounder has terrific range and has a great knack for always being around the ball, making three picks against Kentucky while consistently doing a nice job against the run. Also back is senior strong safety Kiante Young, a 5-11, 220-pound big hitter against the run finishing second on the team with 83 tackles with 2.5 tackles for loss with seven broken up passes. While Dowling might be the most dynamic player in the defensive backfield, Young is the tone-setter.

Senior corners Arius Wright and Tyree Robinson were the main starters throughout last season, with junior Cam Thomas filling in at times including late in the year for Wright. A terrific open field tackler, the 5-11, 200-pound Wright made 35 stops with a sack, three tackles for loss and six broken up passes. He’s quick, but his game is about toughness. The 5-10, 200-pound Robinson is a heady senior who needs to do more when the ball is in the air, but was excellent against the run with 52 tackles – he can be a safety if needed. At 6-1 and 190 pounds, Thomas is the biggest of the three top corners, and he’s one of the most versatile working in nickel and dime situations finishing with three picks, seven broken up passes and 43 tackles.

Watch Out For … JUCO transfers. They might not be needed right away, but JUCO corners Rashad Greene out of California and Dalton Paterson out of Arkansas are big defenders who can play safety as well as be a big part of the corner depth.
Strength: Career starts. Dowling is the youngster of the group and he proved his worth last year. Wright, Young and Robinson have been around for forever and know exactly what they’re doing. They’re great tacklers and tough against the run.
Weakness: Yards. For all the experience and all the playmakers, the WKU defense gives up way too many big yards getting hit for 200 or more in nine games, allowing 24 touchdowns and coming up with just 13 picks. The defensive backfield has to be better when the ball is in the air.
Outlook: This should be a major strength. Dowling is great at attacking the ball, Young is a big hitter and Robinson and Wright are seasoned veterans. The depth isn’t bad and there’s more talent waiting in the wings.
Unit Rating: 5.5

Special Teams

The Hilltoppers have a weapon in veteran punter Hendrix Brakefield, a big-legged senior who averaged 42.1 yards per kick and put 14 inside the 20. Consistent and explosive, he’s great at getting the team out of jams. Sophomore kicker Garrett Schwettman turned into a find taking over for Jesse Roy, who missed his two attempts. Schwettman nailed his final four field goals and showed a little bit of range with a 42-yarder against Louisiana.

Running back Antonio Andrews continues to be one of the nation’s top all-around playmakers averaging 12.3 yards per punt return and a score and averaging a whopping 27.4 yards per kickoff return.

Watch Out For … Brakefield to get a few national honors. He might not put up whopping numbers, but he gets the job done with great consistency and the ability to pin teams deep.
Strength: Andrews. The kicking game is solid, but it’s Andrews who makes the special teams a true positive. He’s a threat to do big things whenever the ball is in his hands.
Weakness: Coverage teams. The punt coverage team allowed 10.6 yards per try and the kickoff coverage team gave up a huge 22.8 yards per return with a score.
Outlook: With Andrews and Brakefield, the Hilltoppers have a few stars to work around. Schwettman doesn’t have great range, but he’s becoming more and more reliable. If the coverage teams improve, this will be one of the best units in America.
Unit Rating: 7.5
- 2013 WKU Preview | 2013 WKU Offense
- 2013 WKU Defense | 2013 WKU Depth Chart