Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) threw five interceptions in WKU's 52-20 loss at Tennessee Saturday.
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. (WDRB) – The ESPN.com headline said that Tennessee crushed Western Kentucky Saturday in Neyland Stadium. Another website used the word "pounded." I kept searching the Internet. I found a smashed as well as a smothered.
The final score was Tennessee 52, Western Kentucky 20. Prepare to see every ugly football verb you can imagine. It's difficult to tie a pretty ribbon around a 32-point loss.
But I'm going to try.
This was not a crushed, pounded or smashed football game. If the Volunteers and Hilltoppers played 10 times, Western would win five. Four years ago Tennessee was in a different Area Code than WKU. Not any more. Tennessee did not crush Western. Western crushed Western.
I'll say that with confidence. This wasn't the Volunteers pushing the Hilltoppers into the Tennessee River. This was WKU outgaining Tennessee the entire afternoon, by more than 100 yards after three quarters, by 11 at the end of the game.
This was the Hilltoppers finding creases in the UT secondary and exploiting them, passing for 222 yards. This was Bobby Petrino discovering that he really does have two quality backs in a running game that delivered 171 yards. This was the WKU defense making Tennessee fans fret about the Vols' passing game, especially with UT bound for Oregon next week.
Yet, Western trailed 31-3 and lost by 32. That does not compute. Seems impossible.
That's because this game was packed with more bizarre turnovers than any football game I can remember. Ten minutes into the game WKU led, 3-0. About five minutes later the scoreboard had tilted to 31-3.
"It happens," WKU defensive back Cam Thomas said.
WKU snapped the football six times. One was a three-yard rush. The other five snaps were turnovers – three interceptions and two fumbles. Who loses the ball five times in six plays? Charlie Brown? No football team that WKU coach Bobby Petrino has ever seen.
"I felt good about the start, especially when we were converting the third downs," Petrino said. "It turned in a hurry ... That's what I've never been through before, the five turnovers in six plays."
The first interception should have been about a 15-yard gain for Western. Instead it was a 23-yard touchdown for the Vols. Taywan Taylor, a freshman WKU receiver from Pleasure Ridge Park, allowed Brandon Doughty's pass to sail through his hands, off his shoulder pads into the air. Six points, Vols. Engage the crowd of more than 89,000.
Terrible things started happening – and they did not stop. A Tennessee defensive back did a great job reading Doughty's eyes and footwork and raced 36 yards for a touchdown with another interception. Later, he threw two more picks deep in UT territory.
"You have to know when you get down in the end zone, you don't throw interceptions and you don't take sacks," Petrino said. "You always come away with points on the board."
Keshawn Simpson and Antonio Andrews forgot about the importance of protecting the football. They know better. They fumbled. Tennessee pounced.
Nobody on Western exhaled and stopped the mistakes from multiplying.
"Don't get me wrong, their defense was good," WKU receiver Willie McNeal said. "At the same time, it was us shooting ourselves in the foot.
"We were moving the ball the way we wanted to. We had to calm down, settle down and just make the plays."
They did have to do that. They did not do that. They will do that.
On Sunday, Petrino will huddle his players in a video room. They will be amazed to see how close they could have been to making Tennessee legitimately sweat. The Vols have a nice running game. They averaged 5.3 yards per rushing attempt.
But there is nothing special about the UT passing game. Tennessee's best passer Saturday was Brandon Doughty, who finished with five interceptions, the first two for UT touchdowns.
Petrino will fix that. Or he will develop a replacement. Damarcus Smith, the former all-state quarterback from Seneca High School in Louisville, finally played in the fourth quarter. He did not complete either of his passes. But he had a nice 15-yard run and showed a formidable arm.
"What you have to do is go in the room (Sunday) with a great attitude that I'm going to learn from this and grow from it," Petrino said. "It's not going to be much fun because you've got to sit there and go through it and grind through it and see the mistakes and really work hard at learning from it.
"Then as soon as we get done with the video tomorrow, we need to bury it."
And do it with memory that Western Kentucky did more to bury Western Kentucky than Tennessee did.