Football notebook: Spring game hosts 6,500

Elliott Pratt

Moments after Bobby Petrino was announced as the new head coach of WKU in December, expectations for the program shot through the top of Pearce Ford Tower.

With the addition of a lineup of experienced coordinators and assistant coaches, fans had every reason to be excited for football at WKU in 2013. The 2013 spring game was expected to host the largest crowd to ever watch the Red and White game in Smith Stadium.

WKU faithful did not disappoint — estimated attendance was 6,500 fans, almost twice as many as last year’s final count of 3,500 people.

Petrino said the quick start is exciting to see for the program and the players have to match the excitement with the product they put on the field.

“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.”

Doughty in the driver’s seat at QB

Petrino and his staff assumed that the Red Team, composed of next season’s assumed starters, would defeat the White Team, compiled of the twos and threes.

Junior Brandon Doughty was the starting quarterback for the Red Team. Doughty was perfect on his first two drives of the game, going 7-for-7 for 100 yards and two touchdowns.

Doughty finished the day connecting with eight different receivers for 314 yards and five touchdowns.

While he wouldn’t confirm him to be next season’s opening day starter, Petrino said Doughty had the best spring out of any of WKU’s three quarterbacks.

“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.”

Doughty said he believes he did a solid job improving during the spring, but still has plenty of things to improve on.

“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.”

Redshirt sophomores James Mauro and Damarcus Smith struggled versus the first string defense. Mauro completed 8-of-18 passes for 107 yards and one interception. Smith only completed 3-of-8 passes for 40 yards and two picks.

Smith did show he can do good things behind a starting offensive line when he entered the lineup for the Red Team late in the third quarter, throwing a 13-yard touchdown to Mitchell Henry on his first play with the presumed starters.

Tight ends provide depth

Former coach Willie Taggart used tight ends in his passing game more than wide receivers. Coach Petrino uses the receivers, but now has depth at tight end to utilize that position with his roster.

Sophomore Tyler Higbee made the switch from wide receiver to tight end this spring and the transition has been smooth.

Following junior wide receiver Willie McNeal, Higbee and tight end Mitchell Henry led all pass-catchers. Doughty and McNeal connected on three occasions to the end zone, and Henry hauled in the final two touchdowns of the afternoon.

Doughty said the tight end position is going to serve this offense nicely when the season arrives.

“You can throw a ball behind them and they make you look good,” Doughty said. “The tight ends are special. They’re going to be a big part of our offense not only in catching the ball but in running the ball too.”

Petrino said the tight end depth makes that position the strength of the offense.

“I feel like all four of those guys can go in there and play at any time,” Petrino said. “Tyler has had a really good spring. I really like his attitude. He’s a willing learner and gives us a lot of energy on the offense and is a play maker.

“Mitchell is certainly very mature and understands what to do in the run game and the pass game.”

Spring Evaulation

The team will now shift to the weight room to work on strength and conditioning. Petrino said this spring was a time for the players to evaluate themselves on an individual basis to master their fundamentals and technique, but the coach says they aren’t where they need to be just yet.

“We are going to grind hard every day,” Petrino said. “We have to get it to where they expect that from themselves every day and from their teammate every day. We’re not quite there yet.

“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.”