Andrews looks to keep churning yards against Troy

WKU’s Antonio Andrews runs for a first down during their game against Navy at Western Kentucky University on Saturday, September 28, 2013. 

Elliott Pratt

Senior running back Antonio Andrews hasn’t missed a beat this season in his quest to lead the NCAA in all-purpose yards in back-to-back years.

Andrews is on pace to top last season’s 1,728 rushing yards mark with 1,036 yards on the ground through seven games this year. He has a chance to defend his all-purpose yards title with 1,610 all-purpose yards so far — a number that gives him a shot to pass his 3,161 all-purpose yard season from last year that fell just 88 yards shy of Barry Sanders’ 1988 Heisman Trophy campaign record.

Despite the numbers Andrews, the leading rusher in the NCAA, is posting, the Toppers’ notches in the win column are not equally impressive.  WKU (4-3, 1-2 Sun Belt Conference) hopes to change that in Saturday’s Homecoming contest against Troy (4-3, 2-1) — the Trojan defense is second in the Sun Belt in stopping the run.

Andrews’ burly rushing attack makes for an interesting matchup against a Troy defense only allowing an average of 141 yards per game this season. But Andrews himself said as long as they stay aggressive and “keep hitting them in the mouth,” everything will go according to plan.

Coach Bobby Petrino said when he schemes for the Trojans, he finds a very disciplined team.

“When you watch them on video, their defensive scheme is sound,” Petrino said. “They don’t make many mistakes. They make you earn everything and they’ve got good players.”

WKU is aware that Troy will provide the biggest challenge to Andrews. The coaches plan to feed the ball to their studs and use them to open up other options in the offense, offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said.

“I think they’ve been very good at stopping the run and that’s our strength,” he said. “They’ve been a little susceptible to big plays — that hasn’t been our strength. We have to find ways to get big plays, take shots, throw the ball vertically and make plays when we do it.”

Earning that big play or the score on the long ball is what WKU has struggled with for 60 minutes in games the team has lost. WKU’s inconsistency in the second half this year has led to the Toppers being outscored 66-13 in the second half of games they’ve lost.

Those second half woes have come as a result of turnovers, something both teams have struggled with all year. WKU ranks next to last in the NCAA in turnover margin at -1.7 and Troy follows closely, ranking No. 117 in the nation.

Turnovers are the culprit for the inconsistency for Petrino’s squad, who said the team has turned the ball over “in all kinds of fashions,” but Andrews said it’s a mental game for he and his teammates.

“We just have to play with heart,” Andrews said. “We’re missing that. We have to come together and play more as a team and leave it all out there…we have to be confident in ourselves. That’s it — all mental mistakes and just lack of focus, lack of confidence.”

Andrews’ run game has been the most consistent weapon in the offense. While junior quarterback Brandon Doughty has completed 68 percent of his passes on the year, his 12 interceptions lead all quarterbacks in the conference. Brohm said he understands their running back is their most elusive outlet, but it is important to continue to balance their offense.

“You can’t hand the ball off every play even though we have an outstanding running back,” Brohm said. “We have to build our passing game, get better at quarterback, get better at receiver, be more consistent at tight end and develop the ability to strike fast and score in the passing game.”

With two losses and a current No. 7 rank in the Sun Belt, Saturday’s match up with the Trojans, ranked No. 3, is even more crucial to the Toppers’ season hopes of a high conference seeding.

Petrino said he knows his team has had plenty of opportunities at their fingertips, and that they can’t afford to continue to let them slip away.

“We’ve had some really good games where we’ve executed and found ways to win,” he said. “We just have to continue to work hard and get better at it.”