Hilltoppers force and concede season-high turnovers in loss

Safety Malik Gant(22) defends WKU’s Lucky Jackson(11) from receiving a little air mail in the battle of Bowling Greens on “WKU’s Parent’s Weekend” at Houchens Stadium September 29 in Bowling Green. HERALD/ Joseph Barkoff

Matt Stahl

WKU football lived and died by the turnover in its 20-17 loss to Marshall on Saturday.

The Hilltopper defense forced a season-high four turnovers by snagging three interceptions and recovering a Thundering Herd fumble to give the offense a lot of opportunities. But the WKU offense also surrendered a season-high three turnovers by losing two fumbles and throwing an interception. The Hilltoppers also turned the ball over on downs twice.

The key turnover for the Hilltoppers came on their last drive of the game, when redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Duncan was strip-sacked, costing WKU a chance to win or tie the game at the Thundering Herd’s 11-yard line.

“It’s a play, actually, I just wish I could have back,” Duncan said. “Instead of being greedy, just take the ball and throw it out the back of the end zone. It’s just one more play that I wish I could have back.”

Duncan threw for 263 yards and a touchdown and completed 24-of-39 pass attempts, but he also threw WKU’s lone interception on the night and coughed up the decisive fumble.

The other lost fumble occurred early in the fourth quarter when redshirt freshman running back Joshua Samuel lost the ball at the Marshall 47-yard line. The turnover cost the Hilltoppers another chance to score and led to a drive by the Thundering Herd that gave them a 13-10 lead.

Samuel finished the game with 43 yards on 10 attempts and the one fumble.

Another offensive issue for the Hilltoppers was Duncan playing under duress. He was sacked four times over the course of the game, three of which came in the first five minutes. Duncan suffered a fumble while evading pressure but managed to recover it. It was one of two fumbles that WKU managed to keep possession of.

“We came out jumpy early on,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “Jumpy in the pocket at the quarterback position and a little jumpy, obviously, at the offensive line. I’ve got to look into what we’re doing.”

On the defensive side, WKU recorded two of its season-high three interceptions in the fourth quarter.

Redshirt senior defensive back DeAndre Farris picked off Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green and brought the ball all the way back to the Marshall 11-yard line. That set up a WKU touchdown on the next play.

“When we get interceptions, we want to get the ball in the end zone,” Farris said. “That’s what I was trying to do.”

Redshirt senior linebacker Masai Whyte also picked Green off and took the ball deep into Marshall territory, but the Hilltoppers were called for unsportsmanlike conduct after the interception and came away with no points on the ensuing drive.

“They played lights out,” Duncan said of the defense. “[Farris] did a great job, our secondary did a great job and our line did a great job. Just as a quarterback, I feel like it’s my duty to be better as an offensive player.”

The Hilltoppers are now into a bye week and won’t play again until they travel on Oct. 13 to Charlotte.

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.