Aulbach: South Alabama a good chance for Toppers to put Tennessee debacle behind


Tennessee sophomore Brain Randolph intercepts a pass in the end zone in the 4th quarter during Saturday’s 52-20 loss to Tennessee at Neyland Stadium.

Lucas Aulbach

Mitchell Henry said it best at Monday’s press conference: “You can’t beat any team on our schedule with seven turnovers.”

The junior tight end was referring to WKU’s nightmare performance Saturday at Tennessee where the Toppers threw five interceptions and lost two fumbles as they racked up their first loss of the season.

The Volunteers are a respectable SEC squad and probably the best team on WKU’s schedule. It would have taken a lot for the Toppers to come out of Knoxville 2-0 this weekend, but the turnovers shut the door on any possibility of pulling off another upset in Tennessee.

Coach Bobby Petrino said after the game Saturday that he wanted to bury the Tennessee film but really, aside from the turnovers, the Toppers didn’t play a terrible game — the run game looked solid against an SEC defense, and the WKU secondary held Volunteer quarterback Justin Worley to just 142 yards.

“We’re all hurting a little bit. We’re embarrassed a little bit. Our feelings are down,” Petrino said at his weekly press conference Monday. “What we need to do is come out and work as hard as we ever have in the meeting room, concentrate on the game plan, get out on the practice field and put all our energy into practicing.”

The Toppers fell off the horse in that six-play, five-turnover span on Saturday, but they can get back on by stepping up in their first Sun Belt Conference game this weekend.

South Alabama is in its second season of a two-year transition to the Football Bowl Subdivision and the team is struggling with the transition — the Jaguars went 2-11 last season and their 1-1 record so far this year includes an opening week home loss to Southern Utah.

Sound familiar? WKU was going through a similar transition with similar results — a lot of losing at the time — just a few years back.

The Toppers were the whipping boy of the conference back then. Now one of the better teams, beating the team ranked seventh of eight in the Sun Belt coming into the year would be a good way for WKU to start burying the worst memories from Tennessee.

South Alabama may not be an SEC team, but they do have weapons WKU will need to shut down.

Dual-threat quarterback Ross Metheny has already earned Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts leading the Jaguars to a win over Tulane over the weekend. He accounted for 365 total yards and four touchdowns with 290 passing yards and 75 rushing yards.

The Jaguars also have one of the top tight ends in the conference in junior Wes Saxton and a pair of preseason first-teamers in defensive lineman Alex Page and defensive back Tyrell Pearson.

If WKU plays like it did against Kentucky, the Toppers should have no problem earning their first Sun Belt win of the season. If they turn the ball over seven times again, like Henry said, they’ll have trouble beating anyone.