BOWLING GREEN, Ky. - Behind 509 total yards of offense, including 314 yards passing from junior quarterback Brandon Doughty, the WKU Red Team took down the White Team 42-3 in front of an estimated 6,500 fans at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday in the annual Spring Game.
The Red Team, comprised of the first team-offense and the first-team defense, accounted for a total of 357 yards through the air, while churning out 152 yards rushing on 27 carries, averaging more than five yards per rush, while limiting the White Team to 159 yards of total offense.
"I thought defensively we did a nice job," WKU head coach Bobby Petrino said. "The linebackers and the secondary are very experienced, and it really showed up. They knew what was going on, and they were not looking to the sidelines to their coaches. That was really what I wanted to get out of it the first time when they were out on the field by themselves, running the show. I was happy with the [first-team] defense. If we didn’t turn the ball over with the [first-team] offense, then I thought it would have been a pretty good day. As far as the White Team goes, it is about them individually seeing how they played and seeing where they fit in with the depth. That is something that we will continue to evaluate.”
The combination of wide receiver Willie McNeal and tight end Mitchell Henry proved to be lethal for the Red Team, as the duo combined for 209 yards receiving on 13 catches and five touchdown grabs. McNeal hauled in seven catches for 115 yards and three scores, while Henry had 94 yards receiving on six catches and two touchdowns. Henry was one of three total tight ends to catch multiple passes on Saturday, as his Red Team counterpart Tyler Higbee caught three passes for 73 yards and a touchdown, while White Team tight end Tim Gorski had three catches for 36 yards.
“The tight ends are great a strength of our offense," Petrino said. "I think that all four guys can go in there and play at any time. We have some skill throwing the ball down the field. Tyler [Higbee] had a really good spring. This is the first time that he has really played tight end, because he has transitioned from wide receiver. I really like his attitude. He is a really willing learner. He gives us a lot of energy on the offense, and he is a playmaker. But all four of them are really good players. Mitchell [Henry] has had a really good spring. He is certainly very mature, and he understands what to do in both the running and passing games.”
All eyes were on the three WKU quarterbacks on Saturday, as Doughty led the Red Team, while James Mauro played primarily on the White Team and Damarcus Smith split reps with both the Red and the White team. Doughty finished his day 23-of-35 for 314 yards and five touchdowns, with three of the touchdown passes going to Willie McNeal. Mauro threw for 107 yards on 8-of-18 passing, while Smith totaled 83 yards passing on 6-of-16 passing with one touchdown.
“We are not going to name who is going to start, but Brandon [Doughty] has had the better spring when you combined everything together," Petrino said. "He has run the offense better when you combine the two guys at this point. He has done some nice things. He understands it. He is very coachable. He knows what the progressions are, and he has a good idea about what the coverages are. He has done a nice job of studying that.
"Damarcus [Smith] continues to show his skills and his ability, but we have to get rid of his mistakes. He hasn’t played for two years, so there is some rust there. He is very coachable, and I like that a lot. I thought James [Mauro] did some good things. He had to work with the [second team] the whole time against the [first-team] defenses, and that is tough. He has good understanding of the offense, and he has to have more timing because he doesn’t have as good of an arm as the other two. That is hard to do when you are rotating a lot of receivers in there.”
“It’s a process," Doughty said. "We are trying to compete each day. We are just coming out here as the next few weeks come up and just competing as much as we can and getting in the weight room to get stronger. I’m not looking at the big picture. I’m just working at it day by day.”
Red Team running back Antonio Andrews led all running backs with 83 yards on 14 carries, averaging just under six yards per carry. Andrews was one of nine different running backs to get a carry in the game, as four running backs had 30 yards or more on the ground. Andrews' Red Team counterpart Leon Allen tallied 38 yards on seven carries, while Keshawn Simpson split reps with both the Red and the White, totaling seven carries for 32 yards. Marquis Sumler led the White Team with 32 yards on 10 carries.
The Red Team defense held the White Team to 159 yards of total offense, while forcing four turnovers. The White Team forced three turnovers of its own, including a pair of interceptions. Cam Thomas led the Red Team defense with two interceptions on the day, while finishing with two total tackles.
“I wish we had another game next week," Thomas said. "I’m ready for the first game. I’m ready for Kentucky. The crowd, there was a big turnout today and people were yelling our names. It was big energy, and we are ready to take it out on our competition this season.”
Defensive back Dalton Patterson led both teams with eight total tackles, while linebacker Andrew Jackson led the Red Team and first-team defense with six tackles, which included two tackles for loss. In all, four different Red Team defenders had at least two tackles for loss, including linebacker Bar'ee Boyd, who had five solo tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss. T.J. Smith, Bryan Shorter, Raphael Cox and James Hervey all had a sack in Saturday's game, as five total sacks were made between the two teams.
The Red Team struck early and often on the first two drives of the game, as Brandon Doughty found wide receiver Willie McNeal for the game’s first score on the opening drive, as McNeal hauled in a 21-yard pass to give the Red Team an early 7-0 lead.
After a quick three-and-out for the White Team, Doughty once again came up with a big play through the air, hooking up with tight end Tyler Higbee for a 32-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 14-0. Higbee would finish his day with three catches for 73 yards and a touchdown.
Once again Doughty would hook up with Willie McNeal to extend the lead to 21-0 in the second quarter, finding the wide receiver for a 33-yard touchdown pass. The duo would strike again to close out the half, as Doughty found McNeal for a three-yard score to end the second quarter.
White Team kicker Garrett Schwettman got the White Team on the board to open the second half, booting a 39-yard field goal. For the Red Team, Mitchell Henry would supply the scoring in the second half, as the junior tight end caught a 36-yard touchdown pass from Brandon Doughty, then a 13-yard pass from Damarcus Smith late in the third quarter, which would turn out to be the game’s final score.
The Spring Game crowd estimated at 6,500 was WKU's largest Spring Game crowd ever, nearly doubling the previous record set last season. The annual game brought a close to five weeks of spring practices, which included 15 total practices over that span.
“I think what we really worked hard to try to establish is that the players understand what our expectations are of them – how we come out to practice to work, what type of tempo we have," Petrino said. "That is really important to us as a staff, that they get better on an individual basis with their technique and the fundamentals and that we are going to grind hard every day. We have to get it to where they expect that from themselves every day and from their teammates every day. We are not quite there yet.
"But it was fun, and we enjoyed it. I think that we established some leadership, and that gives us a chance to be a good football team.”
The Hilltoppers open the 2013 season in Nashville, Tenn., against the University of Kentucky at LP Field on Saturday, August 31. Tickets for that game are on sale now, while season tickets are also on sale through WKUSports.com, or by calling the WKU Ticket Office at 1-800-5 BIG RED.
Full quotes from WKU head coach Bobby Petrino, wide receiver Willie McNeal and defensive back Cam Thomas are attached to this e-mail. Videos, quotes, picture galleries and more are available at WKUSports.com