BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — While wide receiver Nicholas Norris’ initial anxiety over starting his first game for Western Kentucky has given way to wanting to build on his breakout debut, coach Bobby Petrino is pondering changing quarterbacks.
The freshman wideout was one of five new starters for the Hilltoppers (1-2) last weekend. He caught seven passes for 95 yards and two touchdowns in a 31-24 loss at South Alabama. Norris was WKU’s first player with multiple TDs in a game since Jake Gaebler in 2009.
Norris might be joined in the starting lineup by another new face. Petrino is considering switching QBs and making other personnel changes in an effort to end the team’s two-game losing streak.
Western Kentucky hosts Football Championship Subdivision Morgan State (0-3) in its home opener on Saturday night.
No matter whom Petrino chooses to start under center for WKU, Norris’ focus remains being one of his options in whatever capacity he is needed.
He said his philosophy about playing is “just staying humble and being ready any time my number is called. Coming from high school, I always was in, so I had to take a step back coming off the bench at first (at WKU) then practicing hard to get a starting position.”
Petrino has stressed that no position is guaranteed and that starters will be chosen by how hard they practice during the week. He drove that point home with several manpower changes in the Sun Belt Conference opener at South Alabama.
Besides Norris, who supplanted fellow rookie Taywan Taylor, Leon Allen made his first start at running back while three defensive players started their first games for the Hilltoppers.
The quarterback position is now in play as Petrino said Thursday that he’ll decide by Friday whether Brandon Doughty remains the starter against Morgan State. Doughty NCAA-worst eight interceptions have come over the past two games, including a late one resulted in South Alabama’s winning touchdown in a 31-24 loss.
“What we’ve done is open it up like every other position,” said Petrino, pointing to the Hilltoppers’ 10 turnovers as the reason. “We go through the week and evaluate positions. We had a decent practice tonight and will evaluate it just like we do every position and make a decision either tonight or tomorrow. Probably tomorrow.”
Norris’ practice effort led to his first start and a performance he’ll always remember, but his overall play in games has impressed Petrino and WKU offensive coordinator Jeff Brohm. The 5-10, 175-pounder caught two passes for 28 yards in the opener against Kentucky before adding a 6-yard reception against Tennessee for his first career TD.
He continues earning practice reps with the first-string offense with the kind of dedication WKU coaches seek. As for the receivers, Brohm said that it’s time for the Hilltoppers’ “young-ness” to go away.
“They are a young receiving corps, but we expect them to come in and make plays and they have before,” he said. “They’ve played three games, they’ve got to continue to get better, they’ve got to be playmakers for us, they’re out there all the time. We need big plays from those guys.”
After back-to-back losses in which opponents have turned Hilltoppers turnovers into points, they’re definitely taking the Bears seriously despite their winless record. Brohm said that in addition to protecting the quarterback against Morgan State’s blitz and being aggressive, players must finish plays to have a chance to win.
Being back home might help that process, and Norris can’t wait to follow up on his big game in familiar surroundings, a friendly crowd and maybe even someone new in the pocket. Not bad considering he once wasn’t sure how he’d handle being a starter.
“I’m really looking forward to it,” Norris said. “I’ve never played in front of so many fans screaming my name and screaming for the Hilltoppers, so I’m excited to get there.”
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)