Western Kentucky’s football starters showed much reason for hope Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium in front of an estimated 6,500 fans.
During the program’s annual spring game, the offense put up 42 points and the defense allowed only three in a 42-3 win for the Red Team, a squad made up mostly of the team’s projected starters.
“It kind of goes pretty much as expected as far as the Red Team winning,” first-year coach Bobby Petrino said. “There’s a couple things that we had issues with offensively – the turnovers.
“I thought defensively we did a nice job. The linebackers and the secondary are very experienced, and that really showed up. They knew what was going on, they weren’t looking to the sideline to their coaches and that’s really what I wanted to get out of it.”
Junior Brandon Doughty has taken the role of starting quarterback, although Petrino refused to name him as such Saturday.
Doughty threw for 314 yards on 23-of-35 passing, completing five touchdowns. His one interception was a tipped ball off the hands of his intended tight end.
“I haven’t really looked at the big picture yet, I’m just working at it day-by-day,” he said. “I’ve just been working real hard, not trying to do just the stuff that we do in the meeting room, but working in my room, working hard and grinding at it.”
Doughty last started a game on Sept. 17, 2011, when on the third offensive play against Indiana State he tore an ACL. In 2012, he played in two games and went 1-for-3 for seven yards combined.
On Saturday, he led the Red Team for nearly the duration, finding eight receivers and connecting on scores of 21, 32, 33, 3 and 36 yards.
Junior Willie McNeal caught a game-high seven passes for 115 yards and three TDs.
“Yeah, I was real happy (with Doughty),” McNeal said. “He was throwing it to me, so I can’t complain about that.”
Defensively, the Reds dominated against members of the White Team offense.
Junior cornerback Cam Thomas picked off two passes, senior cornerback Arius Wright intercepted another, senior linebacker Andrew Jackson had six tackles – two for loss – and senior linebacker Bar’ee Boyd, junior defensive end T.J. Smith, redshirt sophomore defensive tackle Bryan Shorter and junior defensive tackle Raphael Cox each recorded a sack.
“We came with a lot of energy and it showed,” Thomas said. “I wish we had another game next week. I’m ready for the first game, ready for Kentucky. The crowd, it was a big turnout today and just walking over here people were yelling out our names and things like that.
“It’s a huge energy and we’re just ready to take on our first competitor and the rest of the season.”
The Red Team started the day in crisp fashion by going 75 yards on nine plays in 4:33.
Doughty went 4-for-4 on the drive for 56 yards, completing the series with a 22-yard touchdown strike to McNeal to make it 7-0.
The Red Team went up 14-0 on its second drive that lasted five plays in 4:08 and covered 74 yards. Doughty hooked up with tight end Tyler Higbee on a 32-yard flag route into the left corner of the end zone.
Doughty found McNeal again in the second quarter, this time on a 33-yard post route that made it 21-0 Red Team.
Before the end of the half, Doughty nailed McNeal on a three-yard slant to make it 28-0.
In the second half, kicker Garrett Schwettman booted a 39-yard field goal for the White Team to make it 28-3, then Doughty found Mitchell Henry for a 36-yard touchdown pass to extend the lead to 35-3.
Backup quarterback DaMarcus Smith switched from White to Red at the end of the third quarter and threw a 13-yard TD strike to Henry after rolling out to his left on a naked bootleg.
Smith finished 6-for-16 for 83 yards, throwing three interceptions and one score. James Mauro went 8 of 18 for 107 yards and threw one pick.
Henry caught six balls for 94 yards and two touchdowns, while Higbee hauled in three passes for 73 yards and a score.
Senior running back Antonio Andrews ran for 83 yards on 14 carries and caught two passes for eight yards.
“We have to finish now – we have to finish the semester right,” Petrino said. “Then they’ll get a little break for about three weeks, we come back in June and get back in the weight room and condition, and our players will run the workouts out on the field.
“That’s what is so valuable about spring ball is now there will be carryover when our players go out for themselves.”
• Defensive backs Brett Harrington, Kiante Young, Eric Robinson-Berry, linebackers Blair Vaughn and Mike Federspiel, fullback Kadeem Jones, offensive lineman Cam Clemmons, defensive linemen Tevin Holliman, and tight ends Jim Murphree and Gavin Rocker did not play Saturday because of injury.
•Western Kentucky was perfect on kicks Saturday. Sophomore Mike Mugler made four PATs, and junior Jesse Roy and sophomore Schwettman made one each.
•Saturday’s estimated crowd nearly doubled last year’s attendance mark of 3,500.