Stephens: Things to watch at Saturday’s spring game

Brad Stephens

We may still be months from fight songs, sundresses, bad keg beer, Brent Musburger and the opening chords of College Gameday’s Cominnnn’ To Your Citaayyy.

But throughout the past month, college football fans across America have gotten a taste to the world’s greatest sport thanks to the annual ritual of spring practice.

WKU’s session comes to an end at 2 p.m. Saturday with the Red-White Game at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

In years past the school has gone overboard in trying to promote this annual scrimmage — most notably in 2011, when former athletics director Ross Bjork led a campaign for 15,000 people to attend.

This year there’s no need to manufacture hype because the school already created it in December by hiring Bobby Petrino. The hire of Petrino and a big-name coaching staff has done more to promote a good crowd for Saturday than any attendance campaign could.

That said, with the lackluster attitude that pervades WKU fans, especially the students, drawing 5,000 or so fans Saturday will be considered a pretty good turnout.

Drawing less will just be another case of this fan base’s ineptness when it comes to giving Topper sports a good home crowd (see: any home basketball game other than MTSU this season and any football crowd last fall after Homecoming)

Moving beyond the stands, there are plenty of storylines to follow on the field. Here’s a few I’ll be watching:

Quarterback audition

Brandon Doughty, James Mauro and DaMarcus Smith have the most to gain on the field Saturday.

The three quarterbacks entered an open competition at the start of the spring and so far it’s been Doughty, the one who’s been here the longest, that’s taken most of the first-team reps.

Smith has the most raw potential of the three, but has struggled on routes under 10 yards. Mauro has looked plain uncomfortable at times running Petrino’s offense.

This job will likely be won in August, not April, but the QB that plays the best in Saturday’s real game simulation will go into fall with an upper hand.

Backing up Antonio

As I discussed Tuesday, there will likely be just one guy in the backfield in most of WKU’s offensive sets this year.

In most cases that back will be Antonio Andrews, the former Kentucky Mr. Football that nearly eclipsed Barry Sanders’ single-season all-purpose yards record last fall.

There’s a ton of runners competing for those No. 2 and 3 spots on the depth charts to get some carries while Andrews is on the sideline.

Senior Keshawn Simpson, a strong, between-the-tackles runner will probably get one of those spots.

Leon Allen, Anthony Wales, Marquis Sumler and others will all try to make their cases for that other spot Saturday.

Jonathan Dowling

There won’t be a more athletic playmaker on either side of the ball than junior safety Jonathan Dowling.

He can out-leap people for balls, has great hands and was blessed with terrific instincts in the passing game.

Unfortunately he’s struggled tackling in open space. His whiff on Central Michigan receiver Andrew Flory allowed CMU to strike first in its 24-21 win over the Toppers at the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl in December.

But WKU coaches have praised Dowling through the spring period, saying he’s improved in that part of the game.

Facing an offense that’ll be throwing the ball downfield, Dowling will get a chance to prove he’s gotten better as a tackler.