Scrimmage sets stage for Saturday’s spring game

Elliott Pratt

While a month of spring practice has given the Toppers time to adapt to a new playbook and a new coaching staff, it has also given the new coaches time to put the right players in the right positions.

At this point, roles that were undefined last month are now starting to take shape. Coach Bobby Petrino said there wouldn’t be any rush to find his starting quarterback this fall. However, junior Brandon Doughty has emerged as a frontrunner over the past few weeks.

The reps in practice are spread equally among the trio of Doughty and redshirt sophomores James Mauro and Demarcus Smith, but Petrino says the junior has picked up the offense better than his competition.

“He’s ahead mainly on the fact that he understands what he’s doing more and has been able to pick it up quicker and do a better job of executing,” Petrino said. “Not only the passing game, but the running game.”

Saturday played out well for Doughty and Smith, who had impressive outings behind center in the scrimmage.

Doughty’s strong showing featured 28-of-39 completions for 316 yards and three touchdowns. The only con to Doughty’s performance was a pick-six from senior Arius Wright who returned it 36 yards to pay dirt.

Smith completed 16-of-33 passes for 315 yards as well.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive line has looked for guys to step up and fill in the holes left from four seniors. Defensive line coach Don Dunn said it’s up to the players to decide who will be named the starters.

“We have to first of all get great effort. That’s what we’re looking for first,” Dunn said. “I always tell them it doesn’t take a lot of talent to get great effort. So we have get the effort there and we’re making them go sometimes 12 plays in a row.

“We’ve got to build that toughness mentally and physically and then, again, we’ve got to get a lot better with our technique and our assignments.”

Dunn mentioned redshirt sophomore Bryan Shorter as a new consistent force on the line. Defensive coordinator Nick Holt noted another defensive lineman that had a good week of practice that he thinks could give opposing linemen some trouble.

““Raphael (Cox). No. 95 has had a good week of practice and he’s really solidified some things in there at defensive end and has created some depth,” Holt said. “I am really happy with his progress. He has a ways to go, but we are trying to find positives, and he has been a positive.”

Saturday was also a good day for the offensive backfield.

Petrino’s offense is friendlier to a quarterback and receiver tandem. With senior running back Antonio Andrews returning to the field after a historic junior season, offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said they have to find ways to get the ball to him to make plays.

“I think obviously we have a very good running back who has done a tremendous job up to this point,” Brohm said. “He’s learning a new offense, but he’s a guy that we’ve got to get the ball in his hands.”

Andrews understands the new offense will not utilize the back field in the same way as last year, but said that he and the others are ready to provide new opportunities in the spread system.

“I feel like we’re the strength of the team,” Andrews said. “When coach Taggart was here, he recruited a whole bunch of running backs and now with this offensive change, they don’t really use as many running backs. At the same time we still have that 1-2-3 punch that we always had. It’s always a good positive to have in this new offense.”

The Toppers have one more week of practice before the annual spring game takes place at Smith Stadium Saturday at 2:00 p.m.