Stephens: Doughty made most of this spring

Sophomore defensive lineman Steven Caudill tackles junior quarterback Brandon Doughty during the 2013 spring football game. The Red Team defeated the White Team 42-3 on Saturday.

Brad Stephens

Brandon Doughty was largely an afterthought coming into WKU’s spring practice period.

Buzz at the quarterback position surrounded Damarcus Smith, the former Seneca High School star blessed with a cannon arm and nimble feet.

James Mauro, the big Texan who came off the bench to lead the Toppers to a win over Arkansas State last year, also appeared a strong candidate.

Third on the rung in everyone’s mind was Doughty, the one-time QB-of-the-future turned third-string clipboard-holder.

But new coach Bobby Petrino gave his quarterbacks a blank slate this spring. Doughty, Mauro and Smith were to get equal practice reps until a starter emerged from the trio.

And throughout the spring, while Mauro and Smith struggled, Doughty stood out.

That culminated Saturday when the Davie, Fla., native went 23-of-35 for 314 yards, five touchdowns and an interception in WKU’s spring game. He led the Red Team to a 42-3 win over the White Team.

Petrino didn’t go so far as to name Doughty his starter headed into the summer. But there’s no doubt that if today were Aug. 30, and WKU was taking the field in Nashville against Kentucky tomorrow, that Doughty would be the man under center.

“We’re not going to name the starter,” Petrino said, “but (Doughty’s) had the better spring when you combine everything together. He’s ran the offense better than the other two have at this point. He’s done some nice things.”

Doughty doesn’t have the arm and athleticism of Smith or the height of Mauro, who stands a legit 6-foot-7. What he does have, according to Petrino, is an understanding of WKU’s offense.

“He’s very coach-able,” Petrino said. “He knows what the progressions are, has a good idea about coverages and has done a nice job of studying that.”

Doughty told reporters after the game he’s put in extra time studying Petrino and offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm’s new playbook. He said he even enlisted the help of his girlfriend to quiz him on plays.

That intellectual understanding showed on Saturday.

Doughty made the right reads throughout the game, especially when he threw deep. His patience in the pocket allowed routes to develop down-field. As a result, three of his five touchdown tosses went for at least 32 yards.

He looked especially in tune with veteran wide receiver Willie McNeal (seven receptions, 115 yards, three touchdowns) and tight ends Mitchell Henry (six, 94, two) and Tyler Higbee (three, 73, one).

Doughty downplayed his positioning on the QB depth chart, calling the battle “a process.” He also gave himself just a “C” grade for the entire spring.

As for his five touchdown effort Saturday, Doughty said he did “an alright job.”

“I missed a couple of reads,” Doughty said. “I missed a couple of throws, but that’s just the game.

“I thought that our receivers kept me going and our offensive line gave me so much time back there I was baking cakes. It was good.”

Doughty can credit the receivers and the line, but the reason he’s No. 1 on the depth chart right now is because of his own perseverance.

Doughty came to WKU in 2010 as one of the cornerstones of former coach Willie Taggart’s first signing class.

He received a taste of game action during a blowout loss to Navy early in the 2011 season, leading the Toppers on a touchdown drive but also throwing a pick-six. After the game fan support was overwhelmingly in favor of him taking Kawaun Jakes’ starting job.

One week later Doughty was the starting QB for WKU when it took the field against Indiana State. But just three plays into that game Doughty tore an ACL on a scramble out of bounds, ending his season right after he’d just earned the starting job.

Doughty came back healthy last year but was third on the depth chart behind Jakes and Mauro.

And when Jakes had to leave WKU’s 2012 Sun Belt Conference opener against Arkansas State, it was Mauro who came in and led the Toppers to a comeback win.

But Jakes’ graduation and WKU’s hiring of Petrino wiped the quarterback slate clean.

Doughty, Mauro and Smith got an equal shot at the job. In the end it was Doughty that took advantage.

“I’ve just been blessed, man,” Doughty said. “God’s blessed me so much. There’s been ups and downs but that’s part of being a student-athlete…

“I wanted to prove to myself and my teammates I could still compete and I could still lead my team.”

Petrino has notoriously high expectations for his quarterbacks. Brohm, who also serves as quarterbacks coach, is the same way.

Those high expectations have led to big results from QB’s like Mark Brunell, Brian Brohm and Ryan Mallett.

Now Brandon Doughty has positioned himself to be Petrino’s next star signal-caller.

“Look at (former Arkansas quarterback) Tyler Wilson,” Doughty said. “He’s going to get drafted just because Coach Petrino is such a good coach… that’s exciting for me.”