BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Western Kentucky's third straight spring with a different coach has at least included some familiarity.
Rookie Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm hopes that knowledge of the team's personnel and his offensive expertise as the coordinator last season under Bobby Petrino helps WKU follow up an 8-4 finish with its second bowl bid in three years.
Brohm replaced Petrino in January after Petrino returned to Louisville for a second stint as head coach. He retains a pass-oriented strategy as well as senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, continuity necessary for WKU's move from the Sun Belt Conference to Conference USA.
The Hilltoppers' focus this spring has been finding a successor to all-purpose running back Antonio Andrews, something that Brohm hopes to achieve with Saturday's Red-White scrimmage.
In fact, Brohm expects to, given players' familiarity with him.
"I think they're familiar with both schemes on both sides of the ball," the coach said this week. "There's a few changes here and there, but basically the same terminology is being used and our guys feel comfortable with it. We have some key guys on offense that have experience. We have to get them better and keep them healthy."
Those objectives are especially important for Doughty as he leads WKU's offense. His close relationship with Brohm, a Louisville native and former Cardinals QB, has helped him grow after an admittedly up-and-down junior season with the Hilltoppers.
Despite completing 246 of 374 passes for a school-record 2,857 yards, the 6-foot-3 Davie, Fla., native threw 14 interceptions last season with eight coming in back-to-back losses at Tennessee and South Alabama.
"With coach Brohm, I was with him and he was in meetings every single day," Doughty said. "You knew exactly what he wanted, and knew exactly what he was doing and exactly why he was calling certain things just because we had that interaction all last year."
As the season progressed, so did Doughty's playmaking.
Doughty helped the Hilltoppers close with four straight wins, leading game-winning touchdown drives against Army and Arkansas State. Even though WKU finished a game better than the previous year under Willie Taggart, it didn't receive a bowl invitation.
The quarterback said the focus this spring has shifted from learning to executing the system.
"Last year, we were really trying to learn everything and this year it's so much smoother," Doughty said. "We're going through the same offense and the same type of things. I think the game is slowing down for us. We're not having to think about what we're doing, we're thinking about defenses and not where our guys are going to be."
Brohm's biggest challenge is offsetting the departure of Andrews, the two-time All-American and reigning Sun Belt player of the year. He totaled an NCAA-record 5,780 all-purpose yards the past two years and rushed for 1,730 yards in 2013 to break his own school mark.
At the same time, Brohm is confident that Leon Allen, a 6-foot, 235-pound junior, will pick up the ground game where it left off last season. As a sophomore, Allen carried 72 times for 370 yards and five touchdowns.
"He's been sitting back and waiting his turn for a couple years now and he hasn't gotten to play nearly as much as he probably should have," Brohm said. "But we had a great running back ahead of him, and now it's his turn to shine and show what he can do."
While Brohm understands the task of replacing Andrews in the backfield, his team's fortunes depend on Doughty's development with the offense that's now his domain.
"We have to continue to develop the quarterback position," Brohm said. "Obviously, Brandon has to get better and continue to improve on his weaknesses, which we've identified at the middle of last year. I think he knows what they are. ...
"If we do that, I think he can be efficient, but there's definitely work to do."