NASHVILLE — This game started last December. That’s when the University of Kentucky passed on the opportunity to hire a proven winner as its football coach. And Western Kentucky didn’t hesitate to put Bobby Petrino in charge of its nascent Hilltopper program.
The final score was 35-26. A few WKU fumbles kept it that close, but it was as dominant a performance as you’ll see. Set in an NFL stadium, Petrino’s big-league offensive philosophy just overwhelmed the Wildcats. Like it always was when Petrino was here at Louisville, the game ended with the winning team in possession, inside the opponents’ 20-yard-line, choosing to let the clock expire rather than tack on another meaningless score.
The UK fans in my section acknowledged its going to be a long season in Lexington. Their rationalization began with claims that Petrino won’t last. They say UK’s Mark Stoops has the recruits and will get it done. But for now, it’s clear which first-year coach got the job done.
There’s no doubt in my mind that if you switch out the coaches eight months ago, Petrino’s team would have won in impressive fashion.
Evidence was everywhere. A 3rd quarter hit worthy of a Top 10 Sportscenter ranking. UK players, tired, staggering off the field with injuries. WKU running backs churning for yards after being hit. An offense that seemed, at times, to run or pass at will. The first Hilltopper drive, in fact, was flawless — 75 yards without facing a third down.
The atmosphere at LP Field was big-league, too. It was funny to see the young woman Western hired to sing the national anthem’s chose a blue dress, and almost got booed. She made it up by waving a red towel. The video screens showed celebrating Western fans constantly. There were WKU players in video segments exhorting the crowd. Cocky, like Petrino’s teams at U of L. The home P.A. announcer roared about first downs.
And there was Petrino, the man whose football acumen no one doubts, walking the sidelines with that clipboard. And letting up in the end, leaving no doubt who had the better game plan.