WKU Downs UK 35-26 In Nashville
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — Bobby Petrino proved he could pick up where he left off as a head coach at Arkansas.
Keshawn Simpson ran for a pair of 3-yard touchdowns and Antonio Andrews added his own 3-yard score as Western Kentucky beat Kentucky 35-26 Saturday night making Petrino a winner in his debut at his newest school.
"I love winning, and this is a great win for us," Petrino said. "This is not about me. This is about our players and our assistant coaches and how hard they worked and how much they invested into this team and into this game and I’m just really proud of our players."
The Hilltoppers also beat their in-state rival for a second straight year, though they didn’t need overtime like they did last year in this win over the Southeastern Conference program. They outgained Kentucky 487-419 in total offense and held the ball for 35 minutes.
"Starting off the season undefeated, 1-0 in the SEC, we have another tough opponent next week in Tennessee, another SEC school," Andrews said. "So we’re hoping to go 2-0. It’s a great start to the year."
The loss ruined Kentucky coach Mark Stoops’ debut. Coordinator Neal Brown’s Air Raid offense struggled against a Western Kentucky defense returning seven starters from a bowl team that went 7-6 last season in the Sun Belt Conference.
"We looked out of place," Stoops said.
Brandon Doughty was 27 of 34 for 271 yards and a TD, numbers that would have been better except for at least four drops including a would-be touchdown. Petrino praised Doughty’s precision as a quarterback making his first start since tearing an ACL in 2011. Doughty said Petrino is so good he told the quarterback to throw to a specific guy who would be open.
"It’s an unbelievable experience to see it work…. It’s awesome," Doughty said.
Petrino’s debut was everything Western Kentucky wanted from the coach’s first game. Arkansas fired Petrino in April 2012 for misleading school officials about a motorcycle accident that eventually revealed his mistress was a passenger and employed by the coach. He remains undefeated in season openers, improving to 9-0.
When Petrino has had more than a week to prepare for an opponent, he is nearly unbeatable with a record now 28-8 in such games. The former Louisville coach also now is 5-1 against Kentucky with his lone loss coming while at Arkansas. He had some of his family in the stands.
"It’s great, and it puts a smile on my face, there’s no question about that," Petrino said.
The Hilltoppers decked the end zones with red banners to help make themselves at home in LP Field, home to the NFL’s Tennessee Titans. They also had plenty of fans also on hand too in a crowd of 47,623.
Western Kentucky took control from the start and scored on three of the first four possessions. Western Kentucky went 75 yards or longer on each of the TD drives with Simpson scoring twice, the second putting the Hilltoppers up 21-10 in the second quarter.
This isn’t what the Wildcats expected.
"Plain and simple, they were better than us today," Kentucky quarterback Maxwell Smith said.
Andrews also had a 3-yard TD. But the senior running back who ran for 1,728 yards last season also lost two fumbles that Kentucky turned into 10 points to trail only 21-17 at halftime. Leon Allen replaced Allen and ran 10 times for 92 yards and a 14-yard TD early in the fourth quarter for a 35-17 lead.
The Wildcats had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Joe Mansour off the first fumble recovered by Avery Williamson. Jalen Whitlow ran 50 yards the play after Andrews’ second fumble, and Jonathan George capped the 64-yard drive with a 5-yard TD to pull within 21-17 late in the first half.
Stoops put in Smith after Western Kentucky went up 35-17. Smith drove the Wildcats to a 30-yard field goal by Mansour and he connected with Demarco Robinson on a 34-yard TD pass with 1:37 left. But Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling stripped Ryan Timmons of the ball with 6:33 left, and the Wildcats’ last gasp ended when an onside kick attempt went out of bounds.
Petrino made sure the Hilltoppers got to kneel down and run out the last seconds. On fourth-and-2, he took a timeout, then had Doughty throw for a 17-yard completion to clinch the victory.