Petrino not losing sleep over season-opener

Lucas Aulbach

WKU and Kentucky fans alike have had Aug. 31 circled on their calendars for a long time.

With the game between the in-state rivals just two days away, the excitement may have some Topper fans losing sleep.

Not coach Bobby Petrino, though.

“A lot of times the best sleep I get is Friday night because of all the grind during the week — you’re ready to close your eyes for a couple hours anyway,” the coach said at his weekly press conference Monday.

The Toppers and Wildcats will kick off the 2013-14 football season at LP Field in Nashville Saturday at 6 p.m., the last meeting between the teams in a four-year series.

Last season’s installment in the rivalry had enough drama for two games, maybe more.

The Toppers pulled in four interceptions off of Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith but couldn’t win in regulation despite taking an early lead — the game went to overtime tied 24-24 after WKU gave up at touchdown with 24 seconds to go.

The Wildcats struck first in overtime on an 11-yard touchdown run by running back Jonathan George.

WKU struck back on a two-yard touchdown run by then-junior running back Antonio Andrews on its next possession.

The last play, though, is the moment most fans remember.

The Toppers elected to go for a two-point conversion to win the game — quarterback Kawaun Jakes took the snap and lateraled to Andrews. Andrews tossed it back to Jakes — the pass fell short, but Jakes scooped it up just before it hit the ground and ran into the end zone.

The trick play, titled “Seminole” in the Topper playbook, sealed WKU’s first-ever win over an SEC team and arguably the biggest win in program history.

Could the stakes be even higher this year, though? Maybe.

Both teams have new faces at the head of the team — Kentucky hired new coach Mark Stoops in November, while Bobby Petrino replaced Taggart in December.

Both teams also have higher expectations than last season. WKU is expected to compete for a Sun Belt Conference title, while Kentucky’s incoming freshman class has high expectations.

Jakes was quarterback for the Toppers last year, but this year, junior Brandon Doughty will take over under center.

Doughty said the Toppers are anxious to get the ball rolling after Tuesday’s practice.

“We’ve been waiting for this day,” Doughty said Tuesday. “It feels like yesterday it was 105 days until Kentucky, and now it’s at four. It’s approaching really quickly and the excitement in the locker room is unreal.”

Andrews was WKU’s biggest weapon against the Wildcats last season. He led WKU on the ground with 125 rushing yards and three touchdowns and through the air with three catches for 36 yards in his first game against the Wildcats.

He said on Saturday he hopes to pick up where he left off last year.

“Last year was the first time playing them — this is the second time, so hopefully it goes the way it’s supposed to go,” he said. “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.”

The Toppers have been preparing for their season-opener for a long time. After spending the summer in the weight room, WKU football players spent August practicing and scrimmaging at Smith Stadium during Fall Camp.

Much of the camp was spent preparing for the season and figuring out who should start, but the Toppers have spent time during the past few weeks preparing a specific gameplan for the Wildcats.

Doughty said the team is still fine-tuning its offense to prepare for the SEC defense.

“We’re putting in a couple wrinkles, just seeing some things late, but we’re putting in a couple wrinkles this week and we’re going to be ready on Saturday.”

Offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said he expects the Toppers to be ready come game time.

“Now we’re kind of closing up some things and finally just finalizing a few things — double-checking, re-checking, making sure that we’re doing exactly what we want. Right now the plan’s in effect, we’re trying to execute it in practice and get ready to play the game.”