Football Notebook: Turnovers plague WKU in 52-20 loss at Tennessee

Coach Patrino talks to quarterback Brandon Doughty during the WKU’s 52-20 loss to Tennessee in Knoxville Saturday.

Elliott Pratt

WKU opened Saturday’s game against the Tennessee Volunteers in similar fashion to last week’s win against Kentucky.

WKU received the opening kickoff and the Hilltoppers put together a solid drive with a healthy mix of run and pass plays resulting in points.

That was the only similarity between the two games.

WKU’s next drive turned into the first of many series no one would have foreseen — even coach Bobby Petrino said he had never seen like it before.

Six plays, five turnovers, and 31 points for the Volunteers. Two interceptions returned for touchdowns, two fumbles and another pick resulted in a 52-20 loss for WKU.

“That’s what I’ve never been through before — the five turnovers in six plays,” Petrino said afterwards. “Obviously, we needed to figure something else out and we got pressured on the one interception and that was a protection issue.”

Topper Turnover

The last six minutes of the first quarter may have felt like an entire game for the Toppers.

Like Petrino, new Tennessee coach Butch Jones was in awe of how quickly the turnovers happened.

“I’ve never ever been associated with anything like that,” Jones said.

Redshirt junior defensive back Cam Thomas said it wasn’t frustrating for the defense to stay on the field as long as they did – it’s just part of the game, according to him.

“It happens,” Thomas said. “We just have to pick up where they left off and help out our offense.”

For Tennessee, the turnovers were an obvious deciding factor in a wide margin of victory.  Redshirt senior defensive tackle Daniel Hood said if it weren’t for the turnovers, the game would have been much closer.

“It would have been really close because they were moving the ball on us a little bit,” Hood said.  “They started off with that twelve play drive. So that was a big momentum swing. It put everything in our favor, and gave us a chance to go up by a lot.”

Protecting the ball was something Petrino said would be a point of focus heading into the Tennessee game. Modifying the team’s technique is a definite focal point in preparing for South Alabama.

“We have to get the ball locked up against our body and squeeze it against the ribs,” Petrino said. “…you have to carry it the right way and then when we get in traffic we have to get the opposite hand over it, so we have some work we have to do on that.”

No doubting Doughty

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty’s performance against the Volunteers didn’t reflect the same quarterback that shined in the win against Kentucky.

Three of Doughty’s five interceptions came in the first quarter — two of which were returned for touchdowns.

But junior wide receiver Willie McNeal said Doughty never lost focus of the job.

“Brandon was one of those guys keeping everybody up telling everybody ‘we’re all right, we’re going to bounce back’,” McNeal said. “You make mistakes and people have bad games. It’s a part of football.”

Doughty concluded the contest completing 17 passes on 34 attempts for 222 yards, but was pulled from the game after his fifth interception. Redshirt sophomore Damarcus Smith saw his action after Doughty was pulled with 9:48 remaining in the game.

Petrino noted that the first interception, which bounced off the hands of freshman wide receiver Taywan Taylor, wasn’t Doughty’s fault. But the coach is optimistic of how Doughty will bounce back in preparing for South Alabama.

“What you have to do is go into the room tomorrow with a great attitude that I’m going to learn from this and I’m going to grow from it,” Petrino said. “It’s not going to be much fun because you have to sit there and go through it and grind through it and see the mistakes and really work hard at learning from it.”

Run game shows depth once again

One of the positives to come from the offenses performance at Tennessee was the run game. Senior running back Antonio Andrews rushed for 111 yards on 13 carries and sophomore running back Leon Allen provided the offense with a spark in the third quarter, finishing with 58 yards on 13 attempts.

Petrino said after the team’s win over Kentucky that the depth at running back is the strength that will have to carry the load this season. After seeing a similar performance against the Volunteers, Petrino said he is even more sure of his thoughts.

“We have to use all of them, we’re going to need all of them,” Petrino said. “Who starts each week kind of depends on what personnel group you throw out there right away.”