Antonio Andrews looks to follow up record-setting year

WKU senior running back Antonio Andrews participates in drills during Tuesday’s practice. Andrews looks to continue off the success of last year’s record setting season this year. Ian Maule/Herald

Elliott Pratt

Antonio Andrews almost didn’t make the throw.

Andrews, the 2009 Mr. Kentucky in football and a state champion quarterback from Fort Campbell High School, had one throw to make for WKU and it nearly caught dirt.

The throw, on a trick play to beat Kentucky last year at Commonwealth Stadium, was just close enough for Topper quarterback Kawaun Jakes to lean down, grab it and seal the biggest win in WKU football history.

But ‘close enough’ and ‘almost’ are not in Andrews’ vocabulary.

Andrews almost topped 1988 Heisman Award winner Barry Sanders’ record for all-purpose yards last year. This season, he’s got big goals again.

“I want to rush for 2,000 yards,” Andrews said. “Even with Petrino bringing in a different offense, I still want to make that happen.”

Before the start of last season, the song was all about who would fill the shoes of record-setting running back Bobby Rainey, who had joined the Baltimore Ravens in the NFL.

The battle came down to fellow running back Keshawn Simpson and Andrews, a pair of juniors at the time, and the duo were splitting carries at the start of the year.

Andrews would stay patient, however, waiting for calling into the starting lineup.

“In the beginning I was Bobby’s backup and it was kind of a downer but at the same time, I knew my time would come,” Andrews said. “Once I started at 100 percent at the UK game it just took off from there. It’s just been a different journey and I’m just proud to be where I’m at.”

Andrews’ breakout was surprising for a guy who was splitting carries during Fall Camp. He shined against the Wildcats in the third game of the year, with three touchdowns on 34 carries for 125 yards, and was the middle man of the trick play to win the game.

From that point forward, things took off.

Andrews went on to break Rainey’s single-season WKU rushing record by 33 yards and reached 3,161 all-purpose yards, just 89 short of Sanders’ record. They are as the only two players in NCAA history to eclipse the triple-grand mark in all-purpose yards.

For Andrews, he just wanted to do his job as a running back — he didn’t realize the significance of what was happening week by week.

“I didn’t really know how big that record was until the end of the year when everybody was like’ oh, you fell short, you were this close,’” Andrews said. “I knew it was a record and I was close to it and everybody was talking about it and I realized it was a big deal. It just makes me want to go and actually beat the record this year. I actually set it as a personal goal.”

It’s a bit of a misconception that running backs have a unsubstantial role in Petrino’s air-raid offense. The run game has played a crucial role in the coach’s offense in the past.

When Petrino was at Louisville in 2005, running back Michael Bush, now with the Chicago Bears, rushed for 1,143 yards and 23 touchdowns while the Cardinals ranked No. 13 in the NCAA in passing offense that same year.

At Arkansas, Petrino used Knile Davis in 2010 for 1,322 yards on the ground while the Razorback offense ranked fourth in the nation averaging 333.7 yards per game.

Running backs coach Kolby Smith, who shared the backfield with Bush under Petrino at Louisville from 2003-06, said running backs are important in Petrino’s offense.

“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.”

Quarterbacks can depend on a running back like Andrews to ease the job in managing a high-powered offense. WKU junior quarterback Brandon Doughty said he is especially grateful to have Andrews behind him for every snap.

“The defenses key on Antonio and he’s also a good safety valve for us,” Doughty said. “Every time I get in trouble or our team is down, we just give the ball to five and he runs for a bunch of yards. It’s awesome having a guy that can make plays out there for you and make you look good.”

Days to kick-off for the game against Kentucky can now be counted on one hand. Andrews and the Toppers are anxious to bring another win back to Bowling Green — “bragging rights,” the running back called it.

For Andrews, there is no ‘almost’ or ‘close enough.’ He wants to roll over with the same momentum he left last season with.

“I just feel I’ll pick up where I left off,” Andrews said. “Last year was the first time playing them — this is the second time, so hopefully it goes the way it’s supposed to go. The O-line’s working hard, the tight ends are working hard, receivers are working hard, fullbacks are working hard, so we’re ready to go.”