Bowl gives Andrews shot at Sanders’ record

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers running back Antonio Andrews (right) carries the ball to score a touchdown during the game Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012 at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Kentucky. 

Lucas Aulbach

One more game may be just what junior running back Antonio Andrews needs to run into the record books.

Andrews has racked up 2,977 all-purpose yards this season, good for No. 1 in the NCAA and 215 yards more than his closest competitor, Tavon Austin of West Virginia.

His number is third in NCAA history. If Andrews picks up 274 yards in the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl on Dec. 26, he’ll break the record set by Barry Sanders in 1988.

“It’s a great opportunity, and he deserves it,” coach Willie Taggart said about Andrews. “The kid has been great for us, he worked his tail off along with his teammates, and I’m all for him breaking it.”

After starting the season as one of several running backs on the WKU roster vying for the starting spot, Andrews has become the playmaker. He picked up 1,609 rushing yards, 411 receiving yards, 727 kick return yards and 230 yards from punt returns in 12 games played this year.

He averaged a league-leading 248 yards per game over the course of the season. He’ll have to surpass that by 27 yards when the Toppers take on Central Michigan, but Andrews said he’s up to the challenge.

“I want to get this win, but just to know that record is there within reach, I’m going to go try and do my best to go and beat it,” he said. “I know I’ll be happy for myself and my teammates will be happy for me, too. It’s just something to bring back to the program.”

As much as he’s meant to them on the field this year, Andrews may have helped the Toppers even more off the field.

His quest to surpass an NFL legend’s college record was a big selling point for a WKU team that was on the bowl-bid bubble. The prospect of a longstanding record being broken on national TV helped convince Little Caesars Pizza Bowl representatives to invite the Toppers, Executive Director Ken Hoffman said.

Athletics Director Todd Stewart said the fact the bowl is played in Detroit made the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl a logical point for Andrews’ chase of the record to end.

“He very well could break a great record,” Stewart said. “Barry Sanders — a legendary, great Hall-of-Fame Detroit Lion — holds the NCAA record for all-purpose yards and that’s a great storyline.”