The Western Kentucky football team has reached the symbolic halfway point of fall camp. Now, a new sense of urgency arises as the squad is inside two weeks to go before facing Kentucky in the 2013 season opener.
First-year WKU coach Bobby Petrino will shut the gates to Houchens-Smith Stadium this week with five closed practices and to prepare his team for a mock game Friday night. On Saturday, the Tops scrimmaged for two hours, the culmination of the first two weeks of fall practice.
"I'm really impressed with the way our guys worked this week," Petrino said. "It was a grind on them. Getting up early, practice, meetings, in the weight room, either practice again or a meeting and a walk-through again. We did a good job with the leadership, keeping a good attitude and working hard at it. And we got better, got better as the week went on."
The scrimmage pitted the first-team offense against the first-team defense for the first time this fall, and as expected, a more-experienced defensive unit kept starting quarterback Brandon Doughty and company in check.
The junior – not officially named the starter by Petrino and staff – drove the offense deep into opposition territory on his first drive, but running back Antonio Andrews was stopped on a fourth-and-short to force a turnover on downs.
On Doughty's second drive, senior Kiante Young intercepted on a long ball in the end zone. The third drive ended with the defense stuffing the offense on an option run by Doughty and pitch to Andrews out to the right, then a 32-yard field goal from Joseph Occhipinti.
"It's not always the quarterback," Petrino said. "He's the guy that always gets the blame and the reason for it, but it takes all of us. It's all 11 guys, making sure our protection works, making sure our tight ends and running backs are either involved in the protection or where they need to be in their route so either they get the ball or somebody else is open, and our receivers being exactly where they were on time.
"We don't have it all exactly where we need it yet. But we are getting better, and we are stepping in the right direction."
On the first play after halftime and against the second-team defense, Doughty's pass was picked by true freshman safety Marcus Ward who jumped an out route on the left sideline and went 40 yards for a score.
"You're never satisfied with a pick-6 and that's something I still have to keep working on, and it's an everyday process," Doughty said. "I'm not really thinking about (being named starter) still. I got a lot of things to learn, a lot of things to work on still, and you got to grind it every day."
Petrino said he has been pleased with the offense's run game and that facet isn't featured much in scrimmages because he wants to continue to pressure the passing game. While Andrews and fellow senior Keyshawn Simpson continue to run with the ones, redshirt freshman Anthony Wales has nearly solidified his role as a backup running back.
Wales rushed for 8,123 yards during his career at Central High School in Louisville, but missed 2012 at WKU with a shoulder injury.
"What it does is we got to make sure we got a good package in for him and get him the ball in open space," Petrino said. "He does a good job in between the tackles, he just needs a crease and he can bounce it and take it the distance.
"He's your home run hitter. He's a good change-of-pace and can come in and make some big plays for us."
The Tops open the season Aug. 31 at LP Field in Nashville against UK. After an off day today and a week of practices, the team will move into game-week preparations.
"It always good to have as much live work as you can get because that's when the real bullets come and people start to not concentrate as much, get a little antsy, make mistakes, and you want to have that as much as you can, especially at the quarterback play. It's good that that happened today," WKU offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said. "We'll obviously go back and study the tape and learn from that and really learn from the whole camp that we've had so far, and I think we'll make improvements and try to pick things up."