The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers underwent a coaching staff change this off-season, and the players have had to adjust on the fly.
One year removed from the first bowl game in school history, the Hilltoppers will play a completely different style of football in 2013.
First-year head coach Bobby Petrino brings an offense and coaching philosophy focused more on the passing game than former coach Willie Taggart's ground-and-pound attack.
Redshirt senior offensive lineman Sean Conway said his job hasn't changed much with the new offense.
However, he said the pace of the offense is much faster now.
"(Petrino's) offense is complex. It gets the ball moving quickly," Conway said. "It's all about scoring points, and I love that."
Conway and the offensive line will be in pass protection more this year, but they'll still lead the way for running back Antonio Andrews.
Andrews, a senior from Fort Campbell who was Kentucky's Mr. Football in 2009, is coming off one of Western's greatest seasons ever.
He rushed for 1,728 yards, and joined 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders as the only college players to eclipse 3,000 all-purpose yards in a season. He finished the year with 3,161 all-purpose yards.
Andrews said the first thing he recognized about Petrino's offense is the increase in passing.
In order to adjust, Andrews said he's working on his route running. But he also expects to get plenty of opportunities to run the ball.
On the defensive side of the ball, Western is working on getting more disciplined.
Junior safety Jonathon Dowling said practices are much faster under Petrino.
"We're not just standing around," Dowling said.
He said workouts are shorter but harder, and that practices are more game-oriented.
Conway, Andrews and Dowling all played for Taggart.
In December, Taggart left WKU to become coach at South Florida just a couple of weeks before the team's first bowl game.
That unexpected move left the school scrambling for answers.
The Hilltoppers had improved to 7-5 and 7-6 in back-to-back seasons after finishing 2-22 in the prior two years. They needed a coach who could keep the ball rolling.
That's when the school's athletics director, Todd Stewart, hired Petrino to take over.
Taggart left on a Friday; Petrino was hired the following Monday.
Petrino, who won big at Louisville and Arkansas, was fired by the Razorbacks eight months earlier following a scandal in Fayetteville after the coach was involved in a motorcycle accident. Petrino admitted to having an affair with a woman who worked for him and misleading his bosses about the relationship.
Petrino brings plenty of baggage to WKU, but there is no question the coach knows how to win.
Petrino is 75-26 at Louisville and Arkansas, having taken the Cardinals to the Orange Bowl in 2006 and leading the Razorbacks to three straight bowl games from 2009-2011.
He also brings an entirely different offensive system.
Taggart preferred to run a Power I, smash-mouth running game built on wearing out defenses and relying on tight ends in the passing game. Petrino likes to spread the field, air the ball out and play with a quick pace that leaves defenses scrambling to keep up.
Implementing that passing offense to a WKU football team built to run the ball remains Petrino's biggest obstacle in his first year with the Hilltoppers.
Western Kentucky running back Antonio Andrews has an ambitious goal for 2013.
"I want to rush for 2,000 (yards)," Andrews told a table of reporters at WKU football's media day earlier this month.
Only 14 players have rushed for 2,000 yards in a single season, and no one has done it since Matt Forte, Kevin Smith and Ray Rice each accomplished the feat in 2007.
Two thousand yards sounds crazy, right?
The changes in Western Kentucky's offense and the difficulty of accumulating that many yards might work against Andrews, but the senior running back from Fort Campbell still thinks he can do it.
"When I first saw the offense, I was like, 'Man, they throw the ball a lot,'" Andrews said.
"But (new coach Bobby Petrino) told me he'd fit me in the scheme and give me the ball."
Running backs coach Kolby Smith, who played running back for Petrino at Louisville, said Petrino has always had a good running game to support the passing attack.
"That's the perception, that (Petrino) likes to air it out," Smith said. "But if you really look at the history of his offense, you'll see that he's always had, as a team, 1,500 yards or more rushing a year."
Petrino said Andrews came back to fall practice in better shape and with more explosiveness than he had earlier.
"We're going to get him the ball," Petrino said. "There's no doubt about that."
Last year, Andrews finished as the second player ever to gain more than 3,000 all-purpose yards.
Andrews ran for 1,728 yards, but had only 13 carries combined in the team's first two games, against Austin Peay and Alabama. At that point, he wasn't taking on the team's sole running back workload.
If he had been, then 1,728 could have been closer to 2,000. This year, he'll be the team's No. 1 running back from the start.
No. Name Ht. Wt. Yr. Hometown
7 Damarcus Smith 6-1 209 So. Louisville
8 Todd Porter 6-3 195 Fr. O'Fallon, Ill.
9 Nelson Fishback 6-2 215 So. Oroville, Calif.
12 Brandon Doughty 6-3 210 Jr. Davie, Fla.
5 Antonio Andrews 6-0 211 Sr. Fort Campbell
18 Darmontre Warr 5-9 181 So. Louisville
20 Anthony Wales 5-10 190 Fr. Louisville
23 Marquis Sumler 5-9 188 So. Pensacola, Fla.
33 Leon Allen 6-0 235 So. Bradenton, Fla.
34 Keshawn Simpson 6-0 245 Sr. Lexington
44 Oliver Head 5-10 180 Fr. Fort Thomas
1 Kylen Towner 5-9 180 Fr. Mobile, Ala.
3 Lonnie Turner 5-11 180 Jr. Inglewood, Calif.
6 Joel German 6-0 185 Jr. Fort Myers, Fla.
10 Willie McNeal 5-10 180 Jr. Bradenton, Fla.
15 Nicholas Norris 5-10 175 Fr. Miami
41 Jamical Thomas 6-2 200 Jr. Fairfield, Ohio
49 Nehemiah Mkanta 6-0 189 So. Bowling Green
81 Jamarielle Brown 6-1 178 Sr. Paducah
83 Aaron Jackson 6-3 185 Fr. Frankfort
85 Austin Aikens 6-0 180 So. Tampa, Fla.
87 Cam Lewis 6-3 205 Fr. Louisville
89 Stephon Brown 5-8 184 So. Mcdonough, Ga.
11 Devin Scott 6-4 251 So. Indianapolis
18Shaquille Johnson6-4 223 Fr. Lake City, Fla.
80 Mitchell Henry 6-4 245 Jr. Elizabethtown
82 Tyler Higbee 6-5 233 So. Clearwater, Fla.
84 Jim Murphree 6-5 227 Sr. Franklin
86 Tim Gorski 6-7 253 Fr. Chicago
51 Brandon Ray 6-3 285 Fr. Madison, Ala.
52Cameron Clemmons6-6 305 Jr. Mt. Juliet
60 Ed Hazelett 6-8 324 Sr. Indianapolis
62 Darrell Williams 6-6 310 Fr. Dublin, Ga.
63 Luis Polanco 6-2 292 Sr. Tampa, Fla.
64 Tyler Sweetland 6-3 292 So. Largo, Fla.
65 Sean Conway 6-3 305 Sr. Nashville
67 Derrick Stark 6-2 295 Dayton, Ohio
68 Cliff Burns 6-8 332 Sr. Kokomo, Ind.
69 Matt Nord 6-6 309 Fr. Louisville
70 Max Halpin 6-3 295 So. Fort Mitchell
71 Justin Martinez 6-3 275 Fr. Port St. Lucie, Fla.
72 Connor Popeck 6-4 295 Jr. Madison, Miss.
73 Kyle Jones 6-4 300 Fr. Mulberry, Fla.
74 John Delaney 6-6 304 Jr. Fort Worth, Texas
75 Jimmie Sims 6-5 285 Fr. New Orleans
76 Forrest Lamp 6-4 296 So. Venice, Fla.
77 Donald Rocker 6-4 296 Fr. Jacksonville, Fla.
79Charleston Antwine6-5 290 So. Texarkana, Texas
16 T.J. Smith 6-2 240 Jr. Hazel Green, Ala.
48 Kalvin Robinson 6-5 233 Fr. Birmingham, Ala.
53 Julian Lewis 6-3 237 Fr. Miami, Fla.
55 Tevin Holliman 6-2 295 Jr. Tucker, Ga.
59 Tanner Reeves 6-4 230 Fr. Lakeland, Fla.
78 Steven Caudill 6-0 291 So. Brownsville
88 Gavin Rocker 6-2 230 So. Tyrone, Ga.
90 Marquez Pride 6-1 247 Fr. Madison, Ala.
91Calvin Washington6-5 277 Sr. Charlottesville, Va.
92 James Hervey 6-2 289 Sr. Tyrone, Ga.
93 DeMarcus Glover 6-4 240 Fr. Pensacola, Fla.
94 Bryan Shorter 6-2 285 So. Phenix City, Ala.
95 Raphael Cox 6-3 270 Jr. Cedar Hill, Texas
96 Maurice Bennett 6-2 300 So. Madison, Miss.
97 Jamichael Payne 6-1 332 Jr. Auburn, Ala.
98 Devante Terrell 6-0 318 Fr. Lakeland, Fla.
4 Andrew Jackson 6-1 257 Sr. Lakeland, Fla.
6 Devante Duclos 6-1 220 Fr. Miami
13 Xavius Boyd 6-2 243 Sr. St. Petersburg, Fla.
17 Daqual Randall 6-0 245 So. Palmetto, Fla.
25 Chuck Franks 6-2 243 Sr. Fayette, Ala.
31 Terran Williams 6-2 222 Jr. Bradenton, Fla.
34 Drew Davis 6-1 215 Fr. Madison, Ala.
40 Bar'ee Boyd 6-1 233 Sr. St. Petersburg, Fla.
46Eric Robinson-Berry6-1 220 So. Indianapolis
49 Zane Ramey 6-0 208 Fr. Lexington
50 Blair Vaughan 6-1 240 Fr. Clearwater, Fla.
57 Derrell Young 6-1 205 Fr.Fort Lauderdale, Fla.
1Jonathan Dowling6-3 198 Jr. Bradenton, Fla.
8 Marcus Ward 6-3 204 Fr. Birmingham, Ala.
14 Juwan Gardner 6-1 200 Fr. Louisville
19 Cam Thomas 6-1 190 Jr. Middletown, Del.
21 Arius Wright 5-11 200 Sr. Duluth, Ga.
22 Tyree Robinson 5-11 200 Sr. Dundee, Fla.
24 Dalton Patterson 6-3 188 Jr. New Orleans
28 Rico Brown 5-11 185 Jr. Berea
29 Kiante Young 5-11 220 Sr. Gainesville, Ga.
30 Prince Charles Iworah
5-11 193 So. Nashville
37 Vince Williams 5-10 198 Sr. Alpharetta, Ga.
38 Ricardo Singh 5-11 190 Jr. Auburndale, Fla.
41De'Andre Simmons5-11 180 Fr.Palm Beach, Fla.
42 Jalen Sleet 5-11 180 Fr. Lexington
47 Nolan Dowling 6-3 206 Fr. Belleville, Ill.
61 David Lipps 6-0 263 So. Borden, Ind.
43 Jesse Roy 6-0 189 Jr. Charlotte, N.C.
99Hendrix Brakefield6-4 226 So. Nashville
15 Joseph Occhipinti 6-3 190 Fr. Nashville
30 Patrick Bowles 6-2 230 Jr. Bowling Green
39 Mike Mugler 5-10 185 Jr. Virginia Beach, Va.
56Garrett Schwettman5-11 160 So. Murray
Date Opponent Time (Central)
Aug. 31 a-Kentucky 6 p.m.
Sept. 7 at Tennessee 11:21 a.m.
Sept. 14 at South Alabama 6:30 p.m.
Sept. 21 MORGAN STATE 6 p.m.
Sept. 28 NAVY 6 p.m.
Oct. 3 at Louisiana-Monroe 6:30 p.m.
Oct. 15 LOUISIANA-LAFAYETTE 7 p.m.
Oct. 26 TROY 3 p.m.
Nov. 2 at Georgia State Noon
Nov. 9 at Army 11 a.m.
Nov. 23 at Texas State 6 p.m.
Nov. 30 ARKANSAS STATE 3 p.m.
a-at Nashville (LP Field)
Coach: Bobby Petrino (75-26 in eight collegiate seasons with Louisville and Arkansas)
Last season: 7-6 overall; 4-4 and fifth in the Sun Belt Conference. Lost 24-21 to Central Michigan in Little Caesars Pizza Bowl.
Returning starters: 13 (six on offense, seven on defense)
Outlook: An entirely new coaching staff and a completely different style of play make it difficult to predict how the season might unfold, but there are a couple of certainties: new coach Bobby Petrino is a proven winner, and the team returns a good amount of talent from last season. Petrino, 52, has made it known that his objective is winning conference championships and bowl games. As the offensive-minded Petrino starts over and tries to make an imprint at WKU, he also believes the Hilltoppers are capable of competing for the Sun Belt Conference title in their final season as a member before heading to Conference USA. They're picked to finish fourth in the pre-season poll.
Question marks: Junior Brandon Doughty impressed coaches this spring with his quick grasp of the spread offense and seemed to be the favorite for the starting quarterback job. But he was being pushed by redshirt freshman Damarcus Smith, a highly recruited Louisville native who transferred from Central Florida. Defensively, the Hilltoppers return seven starters from the Sun Belt's best unit (346.6 yards per game), with most of their experience at linebacker and in the secondary. But they must develop a new front four and hope they remain the league's stingiest team against the run (136.8).
Game of the year: Petrino's record includes an 8-0 mark in season openers. That number will be tested on Aug. 31 when the Hilltoppers begin with a neutral-site game in Nashville against Kentucky — a team Petrino beat four times with Louisville, including his first career game as a head coach.
Staff and Wire reports
Players to watch
Antonio Andrews: Kentucky's Mr. Football in 2009 put together one of the most impressive seasons in Western Kentucky history as a junior in 2012. The running back became the second player, after 1988 Heisman Trophy winner Barry Sanders, to finish a season with more than 3,000 all-purpose yards. Andrews is also a threat in the kick and punt return games.
Andrew Jackson: The 6-foot-1, 257-pound senior middle linebacker is the rock of the Hilltoppers' defense. He led the team with 122 tackles and four forced fumbles in 2012. He was named the 2013 Sun Belt Conference pre-season Defensive Player of the Year.
Jonathon Dowling: The former University of Florida safety led the team with six interceptions last year. Dowling is a ball-hawking defensive back with good instincts and a knack for attacking passes in the air. He had three interceptions last season against Kentucky.
Sean Conway: The senior center has started every game for the Toppers after his redshirt year. He brings experience to a WKU offensive line that will miss Adam Smith, who signed with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this summer.
Willie McNeal: The speedy wide receiver caught six touchdown passes last season after being medically redshirted in 2011. His number of receptions should increase under Petrino's new, pass-oriented offense. He's also a threat in the kick and punt return games.