Western Kentucky’s offensive lineup will be a mash unit of sorts come Saturday against Marshall.
Second-year coach Mike Sanford confirmed Monday that both running back D’Andre Ferby and left tackle Cole Spencer are likely out this week. Quarterback Davis Shanley is still listed as the starting quarterback but still recovering from a shoulder injury sustained at Ball State.
If Shanley can’t go WKU would be down to two scholarship QBs on the sideline Saturday.
“All three quarterbacks are trending in the right direction to be ready to play. Now that will be left to our training staff and doctor Chaitu Malempati,” Sanford said. “But Davis Shanley didn’t have any significant ligament damage or any kind of tear. Drew Eckels began his progression back (Monday) in terms of his throwing progression – so some good news out of that.
“Clearly, the way that Steven Duncan played in the second half (at Ball State), he played winning football. He played winning football taking off and running on third down and moving the sticks, making critical red zone decisions to put the ball where only our guy had a chance to make a play. I think Steven Duncan has certainly won over a lot of his teammates because of his toughness and leadership and the ability to play championship football, winning football in that second half.”
Duncan, a redshirt-sophomore, came off the bench Saturday in a 28-20 win at Ball State to fill in nicely for Shanley, and redshirt-junior Parker Howell and freshman Mason Brooks stepped in for Spencer. Running backs Joshua Samuel, Gino Appleberry and Garland LaFrance have picked up the slack for Ferby (and departed back Marquez Trigg) – but the Tops can’t afford very many more hits to the offensive depth chart.
Especially after the best performance of the year in which Western rushed for 192 yards and completed 71.4 percent of its passes while allowing just one sack and only three tackles for loss.
“Big, big, big opportunity for us. It’s a brand-new season. It’s a one-game season,” Sanford said. “The schedule does set up nicely. As tough as it was to play four straight nonconference games, 3 of 4 were true road games… now we got a one-game season to set conference off the right way against a bitter rival and in a great environment.”
Sanford his Hilltoppers had an extra bounce in their step at Sunday’s practice – and why not? It had been a long, long time since WKU had won a game and Saturday’s triumph afforded Sanford’s young squad the luxury of enjoying the spoils of their labors.
The way in which Western won Saturday, overcoming nearly a dozen penalties, four separate deficits and the injury to Shanley, also equated to a shot of confidence going into a game against one of the teams expected to challenge for a championship in Conference USA.
Clayton White, WKU’s defensive coordinator, said an important moment for the direction of the program in his eyes came during the fourth quarter in Muncie, Ind., immediately after the Tops took a 21-20 lead.
“Coach Sanford, one of his things for the offseason was we felt like last year we didn’t compliment each other. That was a moment where we did when we needed it the most,” White said. “Our offense just scored and we had to have 3-and-out. We made some adjustments on the sideline – and our players talked about, ‘Let’s go 3-and-out.’ They came to the sideline and that was the most hype we’ve been.
“Then to watch our offense methodically get first down, first down and then eventually go score, that was one of the best moments we’ve had as a team as far as complimenting each other since we’ve been here when we needed it the most.”
Western will face a Marshall team (2-1) that had to stave off a late rally at Miami (Ohio) in Week One, eased past Eastern Kentucky in Week Two and was beaten soundly by North Carolina State at home last week – a game in which the Thundering Herd was held to 54 yards rushing. Marshall also had its Sept. 15 game at South Carolina canceled.
Coach Doc Holliday’s team is coming off an 8-5 season and New Mexico Bowl win, is two years removed from a 3-9 campaign and four years past a Conference USA title run.
The winner of Saturday’s matchup will have an early, inside track in the league’s East Division.
“We got a bye week after this week, let’s give it everything you got – practice, preparation, it’s a one-game season,” Sanford said. “Throw all your eggs into this basket and then we’ll regroup, win or loss. We plan on going into this game with everything that we got. Every bit of fiber of energy, every player that can help us win, we need them to help us win this game.”
• Western Kentucky and Marshall will play Saturday for the 10th time in a series dating back to 1941 and for the fifth year in a row. The Hilltoppers lead the rivalry 5-4 and are 3-1 in the last four.
• Saturday’s game between WKU and MU will be the second-earliest matchup the two programs have met. the 1996 game was played Sept. 28.
• The Tops are 2-2 in Conference USA openers and 8-9 in league openers since 1999.
• WKU is the only team in the nation to have started three different players at quarterback.
• Western will be trying to avoid a 1-4 start for the first time since 2011.
• The Hilltoppers also broke a five-game road losing streak with their win Saturday.
• Western snapped an 11-game streak Saturday of having at least one turnover.
— Follow WBKO sportswriter Chad Bishop on Twitter @MrChadBishop