Toppers look to turn the tables on turnover issue

South Alabama cornerback Tyrell Pearson intercepts a Brandon Doughty pass in the end zone for the last play of the game Saturday as WKU lost 31-24 to South Alabama. 

Lucas Aulbach

At this point in the season, WKU would trade its turnover mark with almost any team in the NCAA.

The Toppers have coughed the ball up to their opponent 22 times through seven games this season — only Western Michigan, with 23 turnovers, and Washington State, with 25, have lost the ball more, and they’ve each played eight games.

Senior fullback Nick Baisch said the past is the past — the Toppers are ready to put their -1.7 turnover margin, the second-worst in the NCAA this year, behind them.

“We’re improving, focusing on Western Kentucky, trying to get better as a team,” he said. “We know the mistakes we made — we’re correcting them. We’re going to go execute the game plan that the coaches give us and just play four quarters of football. That’s all we can do.”

Fumbles and interceptions alike have plagued the Topper offense through the first part of the season. WKU (4-3, 1-2 Sun Belt Conference) has thrown 14 interceptions and lost eight fumbles in seven games this year.

It all started in the second game of the season, against Tennessee. After coughing up two fumbles but no interceptions the week before, the Toppers threw five interceptions and lost two fumbles in the 52-20 loss to the Volunteers. WKU has struggled with holding on to the ball since.

Turnovers were the difference last Tuesday against Louisiana-Lafayette as well.

Junior tight end Mitchell Henry fumbled twice after stripped of two separate catches — ULL scored on both of the drives following the fumbles.

Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty also threw two interceptions, including a momentum-killing 99-yard pick-six on 4th-and-goal at the one-yard line in the first quarter. The Toppers let a potential 17-0 lead turn into 10-7 on that play, and WKU wasn’t the same for the rest of the game.

“We’ve got to take care of the ball — it’s a major priority,” coach Bobby Petrino said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “We are not going to be able to win games if we turn it over like we have.”

Petrino said the youth of his team may be affecting their turnover troubles. Doughty is a first-year starter, and the offense has used several freshman receivers and offensive linemen at points this season.

“Maybe some of it is we’re so young and new in the schemes and what we’re doing, but we aren’t playing as well as we should for four quarters,” he said. “We’ve had some games where we have executed and found ways to win, we just have to work hard and get better at it.”

Luckily for WKU, Troy, Saturday’s opponent, has had its own struggles with turning the ball over.

The Trojans have given the ball up 14 times — six interceptions, eight fumbles — through seven games this season. Their -1.4 turnover margin ranks just five spots better than WKU, and Troy (4-3, 2-1 SBC) currently sits at No. 117 in the NCAA in turnover margin.

Defensive coordinator Nick Holt said he hopes this week, it’s WKU that takes advantage of poor control of the ball.

“We pointed that out to our kids and hopefully we can capitalize on that— I mean, we need to take advantage of some of that stuff,” Holt said. “How you do that is you fly around and you’re aggressive and you tackle real aggressively and get 11 hats to the football so you’re creating some of those plays. Hopefully we can do some things that causes the ball to be loose and we capitalize on it.”