Navy, WKU both want to use strong rushing games
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP)
The Hilltoppers (2-2) hope to do a better job defending it than the last time they played the Midshipmen (2-0), who ran for 410 yards in a 40-14 victory two years ago. This year, Navy has the nation's top rushing offense at 398 yards per game.
While WKU knows what it'll see from Navy, Hilltoppers coach Bobby Petrino hasn't announced who will be his starting quarterback. That's not necessarily a problem with senior running back Antonio Andrews prepared to be the focus of WKU's offense after rushing for a school-record five touchdowns last week.
WKU is averaging 473 yards per game and could use Andrews to exploit a Navy defense yielding 408 yards per contest.
With the Hilltoppers' quarterback situation up in the air, Petrino wants to rely on the team's strengths - which Andrews' running provides.
''I think the thing we really learned as a staff is to play to your strengths, which is our running backs, our offensive line and our ability to run the ball and get it to the guys that can make plays,'' the coach said.
Andrews' stellar performance not only ignited last week's 58-17 rout of FCS Morgan State, it allowed Petrino to evaluate all four of his quarterbacks. Freshman Todd Porter started instead of junior Brandon Doughty and the result was 5-of-10 passing for 76 yards and an interception.
Sophomore transfer Nelson Fishback completed 3 of 4 attempts for 49 yards and redshirt freshman Damarcus Smith was 2 of 5 for 33 yards with an interception. The demotion seemed to inspire Doughty, who completed all seven passes for 55 yards after throwing eight interceptions the previous two games.
Still, Petrino and his staff must decide who provides the best QB option as the Hilltoppers prepare to resume Sun Belt Conference play next week at Louisiana-Monroe. The process has posed challenges for the team but Petrino called them self-inflicted obstacles that require taking as much time as necessary to get over them.
''We had opportunities to just take care of the ball and play well as an offense and we weren't able to do that,'' Petrino said. ''We have some work to do to get some consistency.''
Here are five things to watch in Saturday's matchup between Navy and WKU:
ANDREWS AND CO. WKU ranks 27th in rushing yards and senior running back Antonio Andrews is coming off a school-record performance, the only FBS player to do so this season. Petrino said the Morgan State game showed coaches they needed to feed their go-to players and utilize the Hillltoppers' strengths. Look for Andrews and the backfield corps to attack Navy's weak run defense.
NAVY'S TRIPLE OPTION: Navy has produced the nation's top-ranked rushing game at 398 yards per game and faces a WKU defense ranked 95th stopping it. The Midshipmen could be the biggest test WKU's young defensive line will face all season, and Petrino said the key to slowing them down is preventing the big play.
KEENAN REYNOLDS: The Navy QB's dual-threat presence could give WKU fits if it fails to account for him. His 233 yards passing against Delaware were the most by a Navy quarterback since Brian Broadwater in 2000. Reynolds has nearly twice as many carries as the other Midshipmen backs through two games with 47 attempts for 236 yards and three touchdowns.
TURNOVERS: Despite blowing out Morgan State, WKU quarterbacks Todd Porter and Damarcus Smith each threw an interception. The Hilltoppers still rank last in NCAA turnover margin at -2.5. Navy on the other hand ranks 10th at +1.5.
NAVY'S SUN BELT SUCCESS: Navy has won both meetings against Western Kentucky and is 55-17-1 all-time against the Sun Belt Conference. The Midshipmen also have wins over Arkansas State (1-0), Texas State (1-0) and Troy (1-1).