Aulbach: Toppers seeking room for improvement after win over ULM

WKU junior wide receiver Willie McNeal celebrates with senior running back Antonio Andrews after McNeal’s first quarter touchdown against Louisiana-Monroe during the first half of their game at Malone Stadium in Monroe, Louisiana. 

Lucas Aulbach

MONROE, LA. — Bobby Petrino was all smiles after WKU’s 31-10 road win over Louisiana-Monroe Thursday night, but his comments showed he was already thinking of things his team needs to improve on.

“We need to be where we expect to score every time we take the field,” the first-year coach said after the win. “That’s where I want to be on offense and we’re not there yet, but we’re getting better. We’re getting closer.”

Petrino isn’t happy with a good performance like the Toppers put on the field in Monroe. He wants his team to score every time they touch the ball — he wants perfection.

At times on Thursday, it seemed like WKU was scoring every time the Toppers touched the ball.

After pulling out to a 14-10 halftime lead after a pair of touchdowns on its first two drives, WKU (4-2, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference) scored on three of the next four possessions to pull away for good.

When the Topper offense hits its stride, they have the ability to keep scoring on Sun Belt defenses.

But junior quarterback Brandon Doughty, like Petrino, wasn’t thinking about his two touchdowns or WKU FBS-era record 370 passing yards after the game. He was thinking about his late interception deep in ULM territory and his 12 incompletions (Doughty went a respectable 24-of-36 through the air).

“We definitely have a lot of things we can improve on,” the quarterback said. “Some of the passes I missed today, they’ll eat me up all night.”

Keep in mind Doughty and Petrino said this after a 31-10 win on the road over a team that stands as one of the better programs in the Sun Belt. The Warhawks were without starting quarterback Kolton Browning, out for the year with a torn quad muscle, but he wasn’t the only reason ULM was picked by conference coaches as a preseason favorite.

Halfway through the year, with three straight victories over some of the toughest competition on their schedule, the Toppers are more focused on continuing their recent hot streak than looking back on achievements from the season.

With a closer look at the stats, Petrino is right — WKU does have areas it can still improve on.

The defense held the Warhawks to just 10 points but missed several tackles and gave 275 yards through the air to a quarterback making his first career start. That, along with a few unnecessary late penalties, should give defensive coordinator Nick Holt and the Topper defenders a good amount to work on moving forward.

The Topper receivers were able to get open for much of the night, resulting in five catches of more than 20 yards and a few more that came close, but had a couple of crucial drops once again, including a sure-fire touchdown from freshman Nicholas Norris. The young group looked good but showed room for improvement against the Warhawks.

Senior running back Antonio Andrews had 155 rushing yards, one touchdown and no turnovers on 27 carries — OK, you won’t hear anyone telling him he’s not doing enough for the team.

WKU will have some time off now, as the Toppers have 12 days until the next game, at home against Louisiana-Lafayette. Petrino said his guys will have the next two days off before getting back to practice Sunday — “We deserve a break,” he said after the game.

You can believe that the Toppers will spend plenty of time looking at film from Thursday and working out kinks on the practice field before the next game, though, because behind all the smiles after Thursday’s win, Petrino was already thinking about the next one.