Football notebook: WKU offense, defense tested in scrimmage

Lucas Aulbach

The Topper offense and defense took the field against each other Saturday in the first WKU scrimmage of the spring football season.

The Topper offense — which featured stints at quarterback by sophomore James Mauro, redshirt freshman Damarcus Smith and junior Brandon Doughty — ran up and down the field against the WKU defense for the second half of Saturday’s morning practice at Smith Stadium.

Offensive line coach Neil Calloway said while the Toppers showed promise in the scrimmage, they also showed they have to improve to be game-ready.

“Overall I think we made some progress, but we obviously have a long way to go,” Calloway said. “As an offensive unit you are only as good as your worst player. We have to make sure that all of our guys are doing the right thing at the right time when they are supposed to.”

Offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm said it’s important for WKU’s athletes to take part in scrimmages now to simulate game situations. The Toppers don’t open the 2013-14 regular season until Aug. 31 but will take part in the annual spring game on April 20.

“We had some guys make some plays, and that it is important,” Brohm said. “I think right now it is about our guys working as hard as they can every single day and us pushing them and then them pushing themselves. When it comes time to play the game, they have to play fast, tough, but also with belief in themselves.”

For WKU secondary, experience is key

One of the top secondary units in the Sun Belt Conference is coming back to WKU mostly intact this season.

The Toppers ranked No. 2 in the Sun Belt in pass defense last season and pulled in 13 interceptions in 13 games.

Six of those picks belong to junior safety Jonathan Dowling.

Dowling, a transfer from Florida who played his first season for WKU last season, has impressed coach Bobby Petrino at the start of spring practice.

“He has studied a lot of film,” Petrino said Friday about the safety. “He is a real student of the game, so I like that a lot, and having the ability to tackle in open space.”

Secondary coach Mike Cassity said he has been pleased with what he’s seen out of the secondary in the first five practices he’s had with the team.

He said he plans to have the group get faster before the start of the season.

“We are starting to get right into our playbook. We are trying to install it at a rate that they can comprehend because a confused football player can’t play fast. The signature around here will be to play fast.”

Offensive line adjusting to spring

Senior center Sean Conway was around for three seasons under former coach Willie Taggart.

He said the difference between practices under the former coach and Petrino is like night and day.

“I think we are starting to get more used to the tempo of coach Petrino’s offense,” Conway said. “It is a lot faster and I think we are starting to get used to that and starting to know who to go to and we are starting to get the right technique down.”

Conway, last season’s starting center, figures to be a big part of the 2013-14 offensive line under new offensive line coach Calloway.

Calloway said he’s spent the first two weeks of practice teaching the new playbook to his linemen.

“There are a lot of things we have to know as an offensive line and as an offensive unit,” he said. “We have to learn as we go and then move on to the next one and carry that with us as we go.”

WKU will return three of last season’s starters — Conway, senior guard Luis Polanco, and junior tackle Luis Polanco — to the starting lineup next year but will look to replace guard Adam Smith and tackle Seth White.