WKU's Andrews leads NCAA in all-purpose yardage

The Associated Press

BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) -- Antonio Andrews is proving again to be the nation's most versatile running back, racking up yards in a Western Kentucky offense needing his multiple contributions.

The Hilltoppers senior is on track to lead the NCAA in all-purpose yards. He has 1,610 yards entering Saturday's game against Troy.

Andrews also has a chance to top last year's 13-game total of 3,161 that fell 88 shy of Barry Sanders' record set during his 1988 Heisman Trophy season.

WKU (4-3, 1-2 Sun Belt Conference) will need Andrews' many skills against Troy (4-3, 2-1), especially his burly rushing style. The Trojans' run defense ranks second in the league with a per-game average of 141 yards allowed.

With turnovers plaguing the Hilltoppers' offense, Andrews' running becomes even more important in their quest to establish consistency.

''We just have to play with heart,'' Andrews said of the team's urgency. ''We're missing that. We have to come together and play more as a team and leave it all out there. . We have to be confident in ourselves. That's it - all mental mistakes and just a lack of focus, a lack of confidence.''

Hilltoppers coaches certainly aren't questioning Andrews' mettle. With 1,036 yards rushing, he's on pace to surpass last year's career-high 1,728. He has rushed for 10 touchdowns.

The Fort Campbell, Ky., native also has 207 receiving yards and 367 returning punts and kicks to average 230 yards per game, nearly 24 more than LSU junior wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr.

Andrews' ability to contribute in many areas, along with his steadiness and poise, will be relied upon to right a unit that ranks next to last of 123 FBS schools in turnover margin (minus-1.7). Troy is 117th at minus-1.4.

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty has struggled in particular with a league-high 12 interceptions. The turnovers have stalled coach Bobby Petrino's quest to establish the passing game he loves, but he notes that his team can't afford to commit any kind of miscues against a disciplined Troy squad.

''When you watch them on video, their defensive scheme is sound,'' Petrino said of the Trojans. ''They don't make many mistakes. They make you earn everything and they've got good players.''

WKU offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm knows who his best player is and plans to utilize Andrews' elusiveness on the ground. But the Hilltoppers also continue striving for offensive balanced their star back won't have to shoulder the load.

''You can't hand the ball off every play even though we have an outstanding running back,'' Brohm said. ''We have to build our passing game, get better at quarterback, get better at receiver, be more consistent at tight end and develop the ability to strike fast and score in the passing game.''

WKU's other challenge is scoring more second-half points. The Hilltoppers have been outscored 66-13 in the final 30 minutes of their three losses, mostly due to turnovers.

Petrino believes if his team holds on to the ball, WKU can mount another three-game winning streak or better. A surge is needed if the seventh-place Hilltoppers hope to improve their standing and earn a second consecutive bowl bid.

''We've had some really good games where we've executed and found ways to win,'' the coach said. ''We just have to continue to work hard and get better at it.''

For Brohm, that means getting the ball in the hands of his best offensive players and using them to open things up. And while Troy's run defense presents an obstacle, Andrews poses just as big a threat to the Trojans to stop.

''I think they've been very good at stopping the run and that's our strength,'' Brohm said. ''They've been a little susceptible to big plays - that hasn't been our strength. We have to find ways to get big plays, take shots, throw the ball vertically and make plays when we do it.''

Andrews is aware that quest starts with him and said if he and his teammates stay aggressive and ''keep hitting them in the mouth,'' everything will fall into place.

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