Eckels a game-time decision as WKU preps for Louisville

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Western Kentucky quarterback Drew Eckels may or may not make his third career start at 6:30 p.m. CDT Saturday when the Hilltoppers face Louisville.

Even if the senior does give it a go there’s a chance his play will be limited.

“He’ll probably be spotty this week at practice to be honest and we’ll go from there with regards to his decision – it’ll will be a game-time decision,” WKU’s second-year coach Mike Sanford said.

Eckels (6-3, 220) is 38-for-67 for 514 yards and three touchdowns this season – all of the TDs came against Maine over the weekend. He also rushed for 38 yards on nine carries at Wisconsin but finished with a net total of -31 against Maine thanks in part to being sacked six times.

The last offensive play from WKU during Saturday’s 31-28 loss was an Eckels scramble to the left in which he appeared to be hit on the right arm before going down near his own sideline. Sanford said his starting QB was also limited last week after suffering a different injury in a 34-3 loss at Wisconsin.

With Eckels limited this week in practice, redshirt-junior Steven Duncan and redshirt-freshman Davis Shanley will split reps in preparation to play if Eckels can’t suit up.

“We gotta see who’s gonna execute this week in practice, and then we gotta see the status of (Eckels) which is obviously the most-important piece from making that decision,” Sanford said.

No matter who plays quarterback for Western Kentucky, the team’s offense is in dire need of a breakout performance. The Tops allowed six sacks to Maine and got just 67 yards rushing from its five rotating running backs.

And of the 24 offensive points WKU has scored this season, 14 came in the first five minutes against Maine. If not for a 75-yard catch-and-run for six points from freshman running back Garland LaFrance the Hilltoppers were in danger of going scoreless for the final 55 minutes against UM.

“We gotta give our offensive line a chance to settle in from a play-calling standpoint and give them more at-bats to run the ball – because in called runs we were just under four yards a carry. You have to kind of look at the analytics of it,” Sanford said. “That was important for us to look back at the run game and realize that we need to get more at-bats up front. We can’t allow teams to just pin their ears back and just rush the passer the whole game.”

Perhaps the motivation of knocking off an in-state team can help the Tops turn the corner? It’s been 20 years since WKU got a shot at the Cardinals (1-1) and a handful of key Western players – like linebackers Eli Brown, Der’Quione Mobley and Masai Whyte, cornerback DeAndre Farris, nickel back Ta’Corian Darden, safety Devon Key, defensive lineman Evan Sayner, running back Marquez Trigg, left tackle Cole Spencer and wide receiver Lucky Jackson to name a few – will certainly relish that chance.

“There’s a lot of upper (classmen) players for our team that are gonna play with a lot of pride going up there to their hometown and playing against a team that they grew up around, grew up watching,” Sanford said.


• WKU is trying to avoid its first 0-3 start since 2011 when that team began that year 0-4.

• The Hilltoppers are 12-19 all-time against Louisville, 4-17 in Louisville, have lost nine straight and last won at U of L in 1975.

• Western Kentucky’s 31 points after two games is its fewest since 2011.

• Under Sanford, Western has totaled 957 yards rushing – an average of 63.8 yards per game.

• Western has not recorded a rushing touchdown since Nov. 4 at Vanderbilt. A Western running back has not reached the end zone since Oct. 28 when D’Andre Ferby scored from 11 yards out with 6:52 left in the second quarter against Florida Atlantic.

• In its last 10 games WKU has just four total rushing touchdowns.

• Anthony Wales was the last player for WKU to record a rush of at least 20 yards when he totaled 32 on a third-quarter run against Memphis in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl on Dec. 20, 2016.

• The Hilltoppers have averaged just 16.3 points in their last four games.

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop