WKU has enjoyed possibly its most successful season this year since transitioning to Division I, and a big part of the credit goes to junior running back Antonio Andrews.
Andrews came into the season facing questions of how he and the rest of the Topper running back stable would be able to replace Bobby Rainey, WKU’s all-time leading rusher who graduated in 2011.
Three months later, he’s being compared to another running back – Barry Sanders.
Andrews has amassed 2,659 all-purpose yards through 11 games this year – 1,384 on the ground, 399 through the air, 359 through kickoff returns and an additional 217 yards on punt returns. That leaves him just 591 yards away from tying the NCAA single-season record of 3,250, set by Sanders back in 1988.
With the way Andrews is used in the WKU offense, breaking the record could be possible if the Toppers make a bowl game.
“If we go to a bowl game, I’m going to most definitely go out there and try to set the bar for it,” he said about the record. “In the back of my mind, it’s there.”
He might be the one racking up the yards, but Andrews said a lot of what he does is possible thanks to a the quality of his teammates and coaches.
“It just means we’ve got a great O-line, we’ve got a great coach and good team,” he said. “They get it done and let me get what I need to get.”
His role in the offense has also put him in a position to put up such numbers. As the team’s starter at running back, leading returner and a top option to catch the ball, his versatility gives him a chance to do it all for the Toppers.
Senior tight end Jack Doyle has a nickname for Andrews – “Mr. Everything.”
“He’s the man,” Doyle said. “We give him the ball all sorts of ways and it doesn’t seem like the guy gets tired.”
Coach Willie Taggart had equally high praise for his top offensive weapon.
“You talk about doing something, he did something throughout this year,” Taggart said. “Antonio is chasing greatness. Antonio wants to be the best. He’s one of those kids that doesn’t want to settle and just be OK – he wants to be the best.”
Toppers face tall task of replacing ‘Q’
How do you replace the NCAA’s top pass-rusher with a week left in the season?
That’s the question the Toppers are asking themselves as they prepare to take on North Texas on Saturday without senior defensive end Quanterus Smith.
Smith, who led the NCAA in sacks (12.5) and sacks per game (1.25), tore the ACL in his left knee against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday and will not be able to play again until well into 2013.
“You can’t really replace Q. Smith,” senior defensive tackle Jamarcus Allen said to sum it up. “He’s in a league of his own.”
WKU has several options to replace Smith on the line, including senior Kenny Martin, redshirt freshman Gavin Rocker, freshman Calvin Washington and sophomore T.J. Smith.
Senior defensive tackle Rammell Lewis said it would be hard to replace Smith’s five years of experience on the defensive line but he’s confident in the younger guys to step up in practice to prepare for UNT.
“I know they’re going to give great effort and they’re going to do their job and they’re going to make sure that they’re where they need to be to make us successful on Saturday,” he said.
Defense looking for better game on Saturday
Jamarcus Allen said there’s a difference in the defense WKU normally fields and the one that faced ULL over the weekend.
The Toppers gave up 582 yards on offense against the Ragin’ Cajuns. Allen said the members of the defense know they can’t do that again against UNT this weekend.
“That wasn’t WKU defense,” Allen said. “A lot of us are ashamed of that performance but the good thing about practice is you get to practice on what we messed up on.”
The Mean Green don’t present the same challenges on offense that ULL did. UNT’s quarterback, junior Derek Thompson, is more of a pure-passer while ULL quarterback Terrance Broadway racked up over 100 yards throwing and running the ball against the Toppers.
The UNT offense has been compared to the offense WKU runs. The Mean Green run an offense that relies on power at the line and shifting players in the backfield.
Senior defensive tackle Kenny Martin said those similarities could give the Topper defense an upper hand on Saturday.
“It’s going to take it back to camp days, going against our offense the whole time,” he said. “It’ll bring back what we’re used to.”