Sanford hoping to find continuity at the QB position

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Western Kentucky has four scholarship quarterbacks on its roster. Going into the sixth game of the 2018 season second-year coach Mike Sanford is now concerned with finding the one.

“That’s what this bye week’s gonna be, is we wanna make sure we evaluate that position and we wanna create some continuity for not only our offensive players and our offensive line and the voice they’re hearing, we also wanna create some continuity for the entire team,” Sanford said. “They know what quarterback’s gonna be out there with the game on the line.”

Part of Sanford’s bye-week studies in the hours that followed a 20-17, heartbreaking loss to Marshall on Saturday was to take a good, hard look at the WKU quarterbacks. What Sanford found was the three QBs that have played consistently thus far have taken 124, 124 and 117 offensive snaps each.

That certainly wasn’t the plan to start the ’18 campaign.

“Quite honestly I’ve never been a part of anything like that in my life around the game of football through five games to almost have an even split three ways,” Sanford said. “Certainly it hasn’t been by design. It’s been by virtue getting guys dinged up.”

The Western offense this year was supposed to be led for the duration by redshirt-senior Drew Eckels. But Eckels took a pair of separate knocks to the shoulder in losses to Wisconsin and Maine and hasn’t played since.

Steven Duncan started Week Three at Louisville and lasted two series before giving way to Davis Shanley.

Shanley started the next week at Ball State before a shoulder injury placed him on the sideline after the first two quarters.

Last week, Duncan became the first WKU quarterback this season to take every single offensive snap.

“This bye week we gotta find out where we’re at from a health standpoint, who’s fully healthy? Obviously that impacted some things over the course of the last four games. Just been forcing the hand a little bit,” Sanford said. “But also, in house, we’re going back and we’re evaluating every single snap that we’ve played because there is a good sample size – three quarterbacks through five games. There’s an even sample size, which is very, very rare.

“So we’ve done some efficiency studies about just how our offense is operating with each quarterback in there. And obviously we’re gonna go from there, make some decisions off this bye week and use the Charlotte game to see who’s healthy and ready to go and make a decision and roll with it and ideally we wanna create continuity. That’s big.”

With Eckels still sidelined due to injury (Sanford said the senior hasn’t been practicing this week), and with Shanley and Duncan beat up from the first five games of the season in which the Hilltoppers went a dismal 1-4, Sanford also didn’t rule out the possibility of former four-star recruit and true freshman Kevaris Thomas getting some more playing time as the season progresses.

But regardless who becomes Western’s go-to QB down the stretch, the Hilltoppers need to find answers and find them quick. They must finish the year at least 5-2 to have any shot at making a bowl game for the fifth straight year.

Yes, WKU is three, three-point losses away from being 4-1, but it’s also eight points away from being an 0-5 team. The Tops are also one of the worst teams in the nation in the red zone (68.8 percent scoring average), rushing the football (117.4 yards per game) and in scoring with just 18.6 points per game.

“We played a tough stretch with a lot of away games against some big, Power 5 schools,” WKU offensive lineman Tyler Witt said. “Obviously we just had a tough loss and need to get it our of our mouths so we would obviously want to play this weekend.

“I think (the bye week) did come at the right time, personally. We just need to take a step back, regroup and get ready for the rest of conference because I think we can do some big things.”

If there is any sort of silver lining moving forward for the Hilltoppers it may be that their seven remaining games come against teams who are a combined 14-20 – and only three of those teams have winning records. While resting and recharging this week, WKU will also begin to prepare for a 2-3 Charlotte team that has been outscored 147-75 against four FBS teams this season.

Regardless of the opponent, however, the Tops must go on a serious run of wins to reverse currents trends.

“Obviously that’s our mindset every week, try to win, put forth the best gameplan that we can, put forth our best effort in practice so that we can succeed on the field,” Witt said. “This week it’s just honing in on those fundamentals as a unit and just making sure that we can get our offense going.”

— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop