Bobby Petrino Era begins with 35-26 win over Kentucky

WKU junior safety Jonathan Dowling talks to freshman defensive back Marcus Ward during a video review on a fumble play against Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville,Tn.

Elliott Pratt

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — The Bobby Petrino era began at WKU started with a bang on the national stage in Nashville with the Toppers earning a 35-26 win over the Kentucky Wildcats

WKU didn’t need a trick play in overtime to notch its second win in a row over Kentucky in front of an announced 47,623 fans in attendance for the final in-state contest.

The Hilltopper offense did not disappoint in Petrino’s debut on the WKU sidelines, racking up 487 yards of total offense.

“I’m just really proud of our football team. Our players did a really nice job in camp and working hard and staying together and going through the long hard practices we had,” Petrino said. “Our assistant coaches had a great game plan and did a nice job during the game on the sideline teaching and kept getting better as the game went on.

“I love winning and this is a great win for us. It’s not about me, it’s about our players and our assistant coaches and how hard they worked and how much they invested into this game.”

The win over Kentucky gives coach Petrino a 9-0 record in season openers and puts him at 5-1 overall against the Wildcats.

As expected throughout the week, WKU saw a two-quarterback scheme from UK with sophomores Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow. Whitlow gave a young WKU defensive front all it could handle with three rushes for 72 yards in the first half. Wildcats running back Raymond Sanders had 10 carries for 79 yards in the first half.

Coach Petrino said the coaches and players did an excellent job making those halftime adjustments to slow down the Kentucky run game.

“When Whitlow was in there with the quarterback runs and they executed well, we just kept battling away and came away with big stops in the third quarter which allowed us to get the lead and got the stop in the end,” Petrino said.

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty was efficient in his season debut completing 27-of-34 for 271 yards and one touchdown.

Doughty’s 27 completions passed the school’s FBS record for completions in a game from the previous 25 completions by Kawaun Jakes against Louisiana-Monroe in 2012.

Petrino said he was exceptionally pleased with Doughty’s performance.

“He did an unbelievable job,” Petrino said. “He came out and really understood the game plan, he was quick getting the ball out of his and was very accurate…as a quarterback it comes down to two things — making a good decision and executing the play and he did both of them.”

WKU went to work on the opening drive with a three-yard touchdown run from senior running back Keshawn Simpson.

Senior running back Antonio Andrews didn’t quite reach the triple digit mark on the ground, but 12 carries and 99 yards and one touchdown in the second quarter helped the Topper run game total 216 rushing yards.

Two fumbles from Andrews cost him some playing time in the second half, opening the door for sophomore running back Leon Allen to earn some carries. Allen’s action in the second half resulted in 10 rushes for 92 yards and a score.

Andrews said the two fumbles frustrated him, but he was happy to see his teammates step in when needed.

“It wasn’t one of my best games,” Andrews said. “But at the same time it was good to see Keshawn and Leon step up. The fumble out weighs every thing to me. I need to work on my ball security some more.”

Petrino said the efficiency of Doughty’s passing game opened up the run game, and vice versa. While Allen had pounded 40 yards on the ground for the drive, Doughty hooked up with tight end Mitchell Henry on a play action pass to give the redshirt junior his first collegiate touchdown pass.

According to Doughty, it was a “blessing” to finally get back on the field and that it was fun to run a coach Petrino offense.

“It’s unbelievable,” Doughty said. “The knowledge that he knows is just absolutely crazy. He’ll just come to the sideline and say ‘Hey, they’re going to be in this throw to this guy he’s going to be open, I promise’ …to see it work live ones-on-ones against Kentucky was just awesome.”

WKU will continue SEC play when they travel to Knoxville next weekend to battle the Volunteers at 11:21 CT.  WKU and Tennessee will both enter the contest 1-0 after the Volunteers handled Austin Peay 45-0 in Knoxville on Saturday.