Troy loss a hit to WKU’s bowl hopes

Running back Antonio Andrews is tackled by safety Chris Pickett during their game against Troy at Western Kentucky University on Saturday, October 26, 2013. 

Elliott Pratt

WKU’s Homecoming loss to Troy all but shot down the team’s chances of a Sun Belt Conference title. With three losses in the conference and a 4-4 overall record, the Toppers’ next best shot at success is to earn a bowl bid.

Their quest for the postseason continues against a winless Georgia State team in Atlanta on Saturday.

“This is the one that challenges you,” coach Bobby Petrino said. “When you lose two games in a row, it challenges your leadership, your togetherness. We have to work on that every day.”

Even though WKU (4-4, 1-3 Sun Belt Conference) only needs two more wins to become bowl eligible, the Toppers may need more than that if they want to secure a bid.

Louisiana-Lafayette, Troy and Texas State each have five wins and Louisiana-Monroe, WKU’s only Sun Belt win, sits with the Toppers as the four-win teams in the conference. With the tight battle for a bowl bid among six of the league’s eight teams, players know they have no room for error from here on out, according to junior wide receiver Willie McNeal.

“We put ourselves in this hole, so we know we have to dig out of it,” McNeal said. “I’m pretty sure the whole team knows the situation we’re in now, and with this conference, you never know what could happen, you never know who could beat who. So we’ll just finish strong, and we control our own destiny.”

Petrino said he has been pleased with his players’ efforts in recent weeks, but he wants them to translate on the field. The coach believes those good efforts have transferred in some ways, but they need to produce touchdowns rather than field goals.

Sophomore kicker Garrett Schwettman made a career-high four field goals in the Toppers’ loss to Troy. But field goals won’t win games when the other team scores touchdowns, McNeal and Petrino said.

“Points are always good, but taking long drives, you have to get touchdowns,” McNeal said. “It’s pointless going all the way down and just getting field goals back-to-back.”

McNeal said it was the little mistakes that cost WKU its second straight Homecoming loss like a “missed block assignment, finishing a block, misread” or incomplete route-running were all causes for not getting the ball in the end zone enough times.

“We had a lot of plays there, even when we think we have a touchdown, we stepped out of bounds or were called out of bounds,” Petrino said. “There were just a number of plays where we couldn’t get the ball in the end zone.”

These “little mistakes” have made the difference in WKU’s two-game losing skid that puts them in the bottom of the Sun Belt alongside its opponent for Saturday. At this point, the focus shifts to finishing the season strong, and Petrino said that happens by taking it one game at a time.

“Our players are competitors, and what you want to do is work hard and get better, perform better the next week,” Petrino said. “We need to go worry about one thing, and that’s winning this game right here. We have to go to practice each day and work hard at getting better, work hard at improving our skills and improving as a team.”