NASHVILLE — Welcome to the Bobby Petrino Era.
What ended in nail-biting fashion against Kentucky at Commonweath Stadium last year transformed into a 35-26 romp over the University of Kentucky Saturday night at L.P. Field.
WKU (1-0) didn’t need overtime or a single point to beat the Wildcats this year. Not with the Hilltoppers running Petrino’s offense, which allowed redshirt junior quarterback Brandon Doughty to choose between eight different receivers and three running backs.
The Hilltoppers led from start to finish, gaining 487 total yards on offense, racking up 22 first downs and holding the ball for 10 minutes longer than their opponent.
“It’s unbelievable,” Doughty said of orchestrating Petrino’s offense. “The things and knowledge he knows is just absolutely crazy. He will come to the sidelines and he’ll be like, ‘Hey man, they are going to be in this. Throw to this guy, he’s going to be open.’ It is an unbelievable experience to see it at work and live one-on-one with Kentucky.”
Doughty threw 27 completions out of 34 attempts for 271 yards with the first touchdown pass of his career lifting the Hilltoppers’ confidence early.
Doughty’s execution of the game plan was what Petrino called “unbelievable.”
“We are inexperienced at quarterback and young at wide receiver, so I think the execution of our passing game early in the game gave everybody confidence and everybody rallied around Brandon and he kept playing well,” Petrino said.
Doughty opened the game with five consecutive completions marching the Hilltoppers into Kentucky territory. On first and goal, senior Keshawn Simpson ran the ball in from 5 yards out to put WKU up 7-0 with 10:53 remaining in the first.
“That’s our strength right now — we have a good offensive front with really good tight ends and a good group of running backs,” Petrino said. “Brandon really helped the running game because he was so accurate and completed a bunch of passes. Players made plays after the catch. It was a good execution overall on offense.”
The Hilltoppers were able to rotate among Simpson, Antonio Andrews and Leon Allen — each scoring at least one touchdown.
Andrews finished the evening with 99 rushing yards on 20 carries and one touchdown, followed by Allen with 92 yards on 10 for one touchdown.
“Antonio does everything for us,” Petrino said. “He is a great football player and a tremendous leader. The thing I like so much about Antonio is when he did turn the ball over, he said that’s my fault and I’m not going to do it again and he kept playing hard.”
Simpson added his second touchdown with 7:46 remaining in the second quarter.
“Leon is big, physical and Keshawn Simpson is a big and physical running back,” Petrino said. “When teams get tired in the second half, you give a change of pace to them and then they’re harder to tackle.
“Leon was hot and when he got hot, we kept feeding him the ball.”
Late in the third quarter, Doughty’s 9-yard touchdown pass to Mitchell Henry increased WKU’s lead to 28-17 over the Wildcats.
It was Doughty’s second career start but first since Sept. 17, 2011 when he was made the start against Indiana State.
The only blip out of the offense came from receivers dropping several balls and two fumbles that the Wildcats turned into nine points. One of the adjustments Petrino wanted to make at halftime was simply to hold onto the ball in the second half.
“We beat ourselves. Everything we did out there wrong, we did it ourselves,” Andrews said. “We are better than that. We should have put up more points.”
Maxwell Smith completed a 34-yard pass to Demarco Robinson for a touchdown in the final two minutes of the game. Had the Wildcats made the extra-point kick, it would have been an eight-point game.
“I felt like I got a little bit conservative, which I’m mad at myself for,” Petrino said. “We should have just kept cranking it up. When you looked at the scoreboard and you saw you had a two-touchdown lead, I felt like let’s work the clock a little bit.”
On the Hilltoppers’ last drive, Doughty faced fourth-and-2 with a minute to play, and Petrino decided to crank it up just once more.
Doughty completed a 17-yard pass to sophomore Tyler Higbee for the first down, effectively securing the victory for WKU.
Petrino improved to 5-1 against Kentucky in his head coaching career and 21-15 all-time in games against Southeastern Conference opponents. Petrino has never trailed against Kentucky in any of the five wins.
“I took some time last week to sit down and watch last year’s game to see how we matched up physically,” Petrino said. “It says a lot about Willie Taggart and what he did with this program. I’m just on board to help take it to the next level.”
To see a gallery of photos from this game click here.