Football notebook: High goals set leading up to season opener

Elliott Pratt

WKU coach Bobby Petrino spoke for almost 30 minutes previewing his 2013 WKU football team at media day.

Petrino said he was impressed with the team’s conditioning coming out of summer workouts and is ready to get the freshmen and newcomers involved with the schemes as the season draws nearer.

WKU opens the season against Kentucky at LP Field in Nashville, Tenn., with kickoff set for 6 p.m.

This year’s game against the Wildcats is the last of a four-game series between the two schools, and Petrino said the game serves as a perfect motivator for his team and that he would like to see the series continue.

“I don’t know if you could have a better opener for us because it motivates you all winter long, motivates you through spring ball, all summer long,” Petrino said. “…We’d definitely like to continue playing them.”

WKU is 1-2 versus the Wildcats after pulling out a 32-31 OT upset last season in Lexington.

Andrews looks to top last seasons numbers

Senior running back Antonio Andrews fit former coach Willie Taggart’s offense so well he made history last season, joining 1988 Heisman trophy winner Barry Sanders as the only two players in NCAA history to gain over 3,000 all-purpose yards in one season.

The early conception was that Petrino’s spread offense, Andrews may not get as many chances to top his record setting numbers from 2012, but Andrews and the coaching staff think differently.

“When I first saw the offense, I thought, ‘man, he really throws the ball a lot’”, Andrews said. “He told me he would fit me in the scheme and give me the ball.”

Running backs coach Kolby Smith noted that offenses run by Petrino have always had a solid running game to back up the pass.

“That’s the perception is that he likes to air it out,” Smith said. “But he’s always had – as a team – 1,500 yards or more in rushing per year.”

According to Andrews, the new coaching staff has taught easier ways to read defenses, and said that all will help in his goal to top what he accomplished last season.

“I want to rush for 2,000,” Andrews said. “…I just want to make that happen. Even with Petrino bringing in a different offense, I still feel capable of doing that.”

“Air Force” taking flight

One of the strongest areas on the team according to Petrino is the defensive secondary.

With all four primary defensive backs being returning starters, two of them, Jonathan Dowling and Cam Thomas, have been named team captains.

“I try to be a leader in all things,” Dowling said. “It’s a real good feeling that my team looks up to me and l appreciate them letting me lead them so I just have to keep working hard doing what I do to keep getting better every day.”

The squad that calls themselves the “Air Force” looks to lead not just the Sun Belt Conference, but the nation in interceptions.

“I feel every (defensive back) in the secondary should set out every year to win the Thorpe,” Dowling said about the award that goes to the nation’s top defensive back. “We’re just setting out to to have the most interceptions in the country.”

Dowling ranked fifth nationally in 2012 with six interceptions, three of which came against Kentucky.

Kicking Battle Begins

WKU’s special teams unit will see an interesting position battle nearing up to the Kentucky game.

Garrett Schwettman enters the season as the assumed starting place kicker after finishing 2012 10-13 on field goals with a perfect 8-for-8 record inside the redzone. 

But Petrino recruited Joe Occhipinti, a freshman kicker from Nashville who he said has really impressed him.

“Schwettman has come back in better condition and is stronger,” Petrino said. “Occhipinti has been very impressive…he gets the ball up high and right away which really helps to make sure you don’t get it blocked inside.

“It’ll be a good battle, but it’s just gotten started.”