Hilltoppers look to build on first win in conference opener

Redshirt sophomore Steven Duncan throws a pass during Saturday’s game against Louisville. The Hilltoppers fell 20-17. 

Matt Stahl

Coming off of its first win of the season over Ball State, WKU will look to strike again on Saturday in its first Conference USA game of the season against Marshall.

The Thundering Herd will be coming into Houchens-Smith Stadium off a 37-20 loss to North Carolina State

One of the key elements of the game for the Hilltoppers will be to continue to put up points on offense after having their most consistent game of the season at Ball State. Head coach Mike Sanford named redshirt sophomore Steven Duncan as starting quarterback on Thursday.

Duncan came into the second half of the Ball State game after an injury to redshirt freshman Davis Shanley. Duncan threw for 94 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for another 55 yards. 

WKU has played multiple quarterbacks in every game this season. Senior wide receiver Lucky Jackson said the different quarterbacks haven’t affected his game. 

“Not at all,” Jackson said. “No matter who’s back there we all gotta play great for our quarterbacks.”

Jackson also spoke of taking a leadership role on the team, and when he decided to take on the role.

“Through the course of last year and kind of after last year,” Jackson said. “Just with the guys that we lost, I mean, I know I had to step up since I’ve been here a few years and I kind of know the system a lot better than a lot of these younger guys.”

Jackson has led the team in receiving yards this season. He’s totaled 19 catches for 273 yards and two touchdowns with his longest reception standing at 66 yards.

The Hilltopper offense has been piloted by three different starting quarterbacks so far this season, including Duncan, senior Drew Eckels who was the original starter, Shanley. The offense has also dealt with having five different running backs, although they are now down to three for the time being, with Marquez Trigg having left the program and D’Andre Ferby having had surgery that will put him out for at least four weeks.

Redshirt junior offensive lineman Miles Pate said that it didn’t matter to him who was playing quarterback or running back.

“We’ve got three different running backs subbing in and out,” Pate said. “We’ve got four different quarterbacks coming in and out. We’ve just got to do our best to make lanes for the running backs and protect our quarterbacks so they can make throws to the wide receivers.”

Pate and the offensive line did a solid job opening holes for the running backs against both Ball State and Louisville, which Jackson said made his job a little bit easier.

“They have to respect the run,” Jackson said. “When a team has to think about the run then that opens up a bunch of different creases in our passing.”

On the defensive side of the ball, redshirt junior defensive back Ta’Corian Darden said that not missing tackles was a point of focus for the Hilltoppers this week in practice after they struggled in that area during the Ball State game.

“You want 11 guys in pursuit every play,” Darden said. “Once one makes contact you want a second guy coming in to try to get the ball out and a third guy coming in doing the same and then the whole defense coming in doing the same.”

The Hilltoppers are opening conference play at home against a rival, which has brought more energy to the team this week. 

“It’s a boost of energy coming back home,” Darden said. “It’s a conference game, that boost of energy shows on the field and it’s gonna show on the field Saturday night.”

Kickoff for WKU vs Marshall in Houchens-Smith Stadium is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Saturday.

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