Red Team rules at 2013 spring game

Senior defensive back Darryl Gilchrist intercepts a pass during the first half of the 2013 Spring Football game. The Red Team defeated the White Team 42-3 on Saturday.

Elliott Pratt

The biggest crowd to ever see a spring football game at Smith Stadium got exactly what they came for as the Red Team, made up of next season’s expected starters, had its way with the White Team 42-3.

The estimated attendance of 6,500 fans was almost double the attendance for last year’s crowd of 3,500.

With every spring practice open to the public this year, coach Bobby Petrino said the faithful attendance was impressive and gives some extra excitement for the fall.

“We’ve had some guys that have been to every single practice who have even gotten up early in the morning when we had to do that to work around our schedule,” Petrino said after the scrimmage. “It’s a great start and the enthusiasm is exciting.  Our players and coaches need to understand that it’s up to us to put a great product on the field, be entertaining, and win a lot of games.”

The Red Team brought an entertaining product to the field — the starting offense accumulated 509 total yards in the blowout win over the White Team, which amassed just 159 yards on offense.

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty, the starter for the Red Team, showed why he has picked up the offense quicker than the rest of the quarterbacks by throwing for 314 yards on 23-of-35 completions and five touchdowns. Doughty was perfect on the first two drives of the game, going 7-for-7 for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Doughty credited his receivers for picking up the slack and keeping him in the game.

“I set my goal to lead this team and that’s what I’m here to do,” Doughty said. “I think I did an all right job (Saturday). I missed a couple of reads and a couple of throws but that’s just the game. Our receivers kept me in it and our offensive line gave me so much time back there I was baking cakes.”

Petrino wouldn’t confirm Doughty as the starter and probably will not name one officially until the fall, but gave the junior credit for picking up the offense the quickest of the group.

“He’s had the better spring when you combine everything together,” Petrino said. “He’s run the offense better than the other two guys have at this point. He’s done some nice things, he understands it, he’s very coachable and he knows what the progressions are and has a good idea about coverage and has done a nice job of studying that.”

One of those receivers that benefited from Doughty’s big day was junior Willie McNeal. The team’s second leading receiver in 2012 was the star wide-out on Saturday for hauling in seven catches for 115 yards and three touchdowns.

Along with McNeal, sophomore tight ends Tyler Higbee and Mitchell Henry proved to be some of Doughty’s favorite targets as well.

Higbee reeled in three catches for 73   yards and one trip to the end zone while Henry caught the game’s final two touchdowns and finished with six catches for 94 yards.

McNeal said one of the nice things about the new offense was that even when the Red Team had the game sealed, he was still getting the ball deep down the field.

“In the fourth quarter when we had that big lead we were still throwing deep passes and taking chances on a lot of plays,” McNeal said. “Coach ‘P’ is an offensive guru, and he’s going to put you in the place where you need to be, all you have to do is make the play.”

The team still has a long ways to go according to Petrino. The coach evaluated the spring as a time where leaders were set in place, but the team has to expect more out of themselves every day.

“Overall l, I thought we had a very productive spring,” Petrino said. “I think what we really worked hard to establish was that the players know what our expectations are of them. I think we established some leadership and I think that’s going to give us a chance to be a good football team.

“We are going to grind hard every day. We have to get it to where they expect that from themselves every day and from their teammate every day. I think they understand what we’re striving for as a staff, but they’re not quite expecting that effort out of themselves every day, so we have some work to do.”