Aulbach: Toppers controlled every part of Saturday’s game

WKU head coach Bobby Petrino greets WKU president Gary Ransdell after the game. WKU won 35-26 against Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville, Tn on Saturday night.

Lucas Aulbach

Watching the WKU team that took the field Saturday against Kentucky must have seemed like some kind of weird dream to fans who have been watching the Toppers for years.

The old-school red and white uniforms are gone, replaced by a red, black and chrome combination that looks like something from the future.

The stands were packed with Topper fans, with an announced attendance of 47,623 that had a lot of red in it. People definitely wouldn’t have believed that one a couple of seasons back.

The biggest difference, though, was in the performance on the field — the Toppers dominated almost every part of the game against an SEC team.

Granted, Kentucky is not the class of the Southeastern Conference. They’re on the right track with a strong 2013 recruiting class and the direction of new coach Mark Stoops, but the Wildcats that took the field Saturday look like they might be in for a long season.

But the fact that WKU was able to thoroughly handle any SEC squad for 60 minutes speaks volumes to where the Toppers stand today.

The Toppers’ win over Kentucky last season was hailed as one of the biggest in school history, but it could have gone to the Wildcats pretty easily. WKU won the game by winning the battle on the ground and on the clock, but Kentucky posted 172 more passing yards than the Toppers and would have come away with the win if Antonio Andrews’ overtime pass to Kawaun Jakes had hit the ground.

There was no drama this year. The biggest question in the fourth quarter was whether or not Bobby Petrino would get the Gatorade bath when time ran out (he didn’t).

Junior Brandon Doughty, seeing his first real action since Sept. 2011, was the best quarterback on the field, setting a new WKU FBS record with 27 completions for 271 yards and a touchdown.

The Topper running backs showed their depth — when junior starter Antonio Andrews, who finished with 99 yards, was benched after a pair of fumbles, sophomore Leon Allen took over the game with a 92-yard second half that included five runs of over 10 yards. Senior Keshawn Simpson added a couple of touchdown runs.

It wasn’t just the offense, though. The Topper defense only allowed nine points in the second half and controlled Kentucky quarterback Jalen Whitlow through the air before he was replaced by Maxwell Smith. The run defense left something to be desired, but that’s an entirely new group of starters on the defensive line — they should improve as the season goes on.

WKU controlled the pace of the game and executed Petrino’s offense with precision. In short, the Toppers gave fans a lot to be excited about moving forward.

It was a good win for the program, but while WKU fans celebrate the win over the Wildcats this week, the Toppers will be preparing for a tougher SEC foe.

Tennessee isn’t the national championship contender it was 10 years ago, but the Volunteer team WKU is set to face Saturday has one of the top offensive lines in the nation and several playmakers under new coach Butch Jones. Fresh off of a 45-0 beatdown of Austin Peay in their season opener, the Volunteers could use as many wins as possible before they start a six-week stretch that includes five AP top-25 teams.

There are still a lot of questions about how the Toppers match up with Tennessee heading into the weekend. Saturday’s game in Nashville should put to rest any questions about how the Toppers have adjusted to the new coaching staff — WKU looked like a Bobby Petrino team against Kentucky.