Aulbach: Things to watch for in the Red and White Game

WKU football Head Coach, Jeff Brohm, watches the players stretch during spring practice Tuesday, March 1, at Smith Stadium. (Mike Clark/HERALD)

Lucas Aulbach

This Saturday will mark the third spring game I’ve attended over the four years I’ve written for the Herald sports staff, under three different coaches. I’ve got to say, this is the most excited I’ve been for any of them.

The stakes were high in 2012 under Willie Taggart following WKU’s first winning season in years. Last season was the first chance to see the high-powered offense and refashioned defense Bobby Petrino and hisnew coaching staff had offered.

There might be a new name running the show in 2014, but I’m expecting to see a team Saturday that took the teachings of 2013 and spent the spring building on that.

For all the moves that have been made since the Toppers played their last regular season game back in November — including a change at head coach, a retooled coaching staff, departure of several key players from last season and an impending move to a new conference — much of spring ball this year has been pretty routine. The change from Petrino to Jeff Brohm hasn’t been the night-and-day transformation that occurred when Petrino took over for Taggart last year.

Players and coaches have spent the past few weeks saying they’ve taken what they worked on last year and tweaked it to fit the new staff and personnel under Brohm. Saturday, we’ll get the first real look at those changes on the field.

There will be storylines to follow all over the field, but there are a few in particular that I’ll be keeping my eye on.

– Replacing ‘5’ — Don’t get confused when you wonder why the Topper wearing No. 5 isn’t in the backfield on Saturday. Record-setting running back Antonio Andrews is gone and preparing for the upcoming NFL Draft, with a pair of JUCO transfers, quarterback Troy Jones and cornerback Wonderful Terry, taking the number. WKU should have plenty of options at running back, though, with junior standout Leon Allen and sophomore Ace Wales finally having a chance to get consistent playing time.

– Defensive turnover — Guys like defensive end Bar’ee Boyd, safety Jonathan Dowling, and linebackers Andrew Jackson and Xavius Boyd helped make WKU one of the op defenses in the Sun Belt Conference each of the past two years.

The Toppers will have to replace all of those standouts next year, their first in Conference USA. Experienced guys like 2013 All-Sun Belt cornerback Cam Thomas and defensive end Gavin Rocker will have to have a bigger impact as the Toppers replace some possible NFL talent on defense.

– Quarterback controversy — Don’t get excited. Senior Brandon Doughty will be your starter on Saturday. But the spring games is one of the best looks we’ll get all year, spring or fall, at WKU’s backup quarterbacks. Sophomore Todd Porter and junior Nelson Fishback each saw extended playing time at points last year, with junior DaMarcus Smith getting into the fold as well.

This year the Toppers have added JUCO transfer Troy Jones to the mix to go with them. Take some extra time to watch them throw the ball Saturday, because you won’t get another opportunity to see most of them compete in a game setting like this for a while.