Nightmare in Knoxville: Five turnovers in five possessions doom WKU at Tennessee

WKU+safety+Jonathan+Dowling+hits+Tennessee+tight+end+Brendan+Downs+as+downs+catches+a+touchdown+pass+during+WKU%27s+52-20+loss+to+Tennessee+Saturday.

WKU safety Jonathan Dowling hits Tennessee tight end Brendan Downs as downs catches a touchdown pass during WKU’s 52-20 loss to Tennessee Saturday.

Elliott Pratt

Six plays and five turnovers.

That’s all it took to turn a dream opportunity for WKU into an orange and white nightmare Saturday in Knoxville as the Volunteers routed the Toppers 52-20.

WKU (1-1) committed a total of seven turnovers as Tennessee (2-0) turned a 3-0 deficit late in the first quarter into a quick 31-3 advantage at the beginning of the second quarter.

It’s a problem the team hopes to fix before its first Sun Belt Conference game of the year against South Alabama at 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty’s picture-perfect season debut against Kentucky last week took a turn for the worse with a five interception performance, two of which were returned for Volunteer touchdowns in the first quarter to start the scoring spree for good ole’ Rocky Top.

Doughty’s five interceptions were one pick from the WKU record of six interceptions thrown in one game.

Coach Bobby Petrino said after the game that he couldn’t recall a more bizarre series of events in his career in football.

“We dug ourselves a hole in the first half and I don’t know that I’ve ever been through the five turnovers that we had, two of them for touchdowns,” Petrino said. “I don’t remember that many interceptions and that many turnovers back to back to back.”

Turnovers have been the sorest issue for WKU during the young season. Against Kentucky, senior running back Antonio Andrews turned the ball over twice —he turned it over once at Tennessee. The team as a whole has lost four of their season total seven drops.

Petrino said after the win over the Wildcats that turnovers would be the biggest focus for the team.

Junior tight end Mitchell Henry said if the team doesn’t fix the problem soon, they won’t be able to beat any team this year.

“It has to be a huge focus,” Henry said. “You can’t beat any team on our schedule with seven turnovers. I don’t care who you’re playing, you can’t turn the ball over seven times. You’re not going to win.

“…It didn’t hurt us in the Kentucky game, but it definitely hurt us in this past game, and we have to solve that issue. Once we get that issue solved, we’re going to be good.”

In this week’s preparation for South Alabama, Petrino said taking care of the ball is a technique they are going to “keep pounding away at.”

“It’s not just how you carry it or the running back,” Petrino said. “We got hit one time from the blindside because we didn’t finish a block. When you finish your blocks, when you run to the football, even when you do fumble, then you recover it. It’s all 11 guys doing their job and it all works together. All of us have to take responsibility for it, not just the guy carrying the ball.”

A big question for the team during the turnover spell was how the team would bounce back and compete against the Volunteers in front of 86,783 orange and white fans.

Henry, who was Doughty’s intended target on the fifth interception, said even after all the turnovers the team stayed upbeat and believed they were still in the game — they even still held faith in their chances to knock off another SEC foe trailing 31-17.

“After all that happened, we were still in the game,” Henry said. “I think everybody expected us to come out after halftime and, honestly, we expected to win coming out of halftime. To go through everything we went through and all those turnovers and to still be where we’re at, our attitude, I thought, was pretty good.”

Many coaches, including former coach Willie Taggart, implement a 24-hour rule to celebrate a team’s win before setting their mind to the next task.

For a loss such as the one WKU left Knoxville with, work for the next opponent began immediately.

Petrino admitted the loss hurt, but is confident in his team’s ability to throw the past away and move on to the next one.

“We’re all hurting a little bit, we’re embarrassed a little bit, our feelings are down,” Petrino said. “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.”