Injuries, familiar weakness continue to boggle WKU

WKU running back Jakairi Moses (29) is tackled by Vanderbilt linebacker Jordan Griffin (40) at Vanderbilt Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 4.

Sam Porter

With three games left in the season, WKU is one win away from bowl eligibility. Of those three opponents, Marshall and Florida International have already clinched bowl eligibility while Middle Tennessee is fighting to get to the six required wins as well.

To get to that sixth win, the Hilltoppers will have to do so without several key players. Head coach Mike Sanford announced Monday that sophomore running back Quinton Baker (upper body) and redshirt freshman linebacker Demetrius Cain (lower body) are both out for the season after sustaining injuries against Vanderbilt.

“We hurt for the guys who are not able to finish the year out with season-ending injuries,” Sanford said. “There have certainly been a lot of them, but this is a terrific opportunity for guys on our team to be the next man up and also for us to grow as a program. The best way to grow as a program for the future is for young guys to step up in critical situations, and that’s what this next game is for us.”

On top of the loss of Baker and Cain, several key players are listed as day-to-day following the Vanderbilt game. Redshirt senior tight end Deon Yelder, who leads the team in touchdown catches and is second in receptions and receiving yards, is listed as questionable after missing his first game of the season last Saturday. Junior tight end Mik’quan Deane caught five passes for 57 yards in Yelder’s absence.

Redshirt senior wide receiver and kick returner Kylen Towner is also listed as day-to- day, as is graduate transfer wide receiver Cameron Echols-Luper. Both Towner and Echols-Luper missed Saturday’s Vanderbilt game.

With Baker out for the year and several other skill players banged up, redshirt junior D’Andre Ferby will likely get the bulk of the touches on Saturday’s showdown against Marshall.

Sanford said he believes Ferby is close to being 100 percent after playing the majority of the season with a minor ankle injury. Ferby, who began the year as the starting running back, will look to help a running game that ranks last in the nation in yard per game.

“We can’t take a play off and we got to win our one on one battles up front,” Ferby said about what needs to improve in the run game. “When there’s a man in front of you, you gotta dominate them. Also for us backs we just have to make the defenders miss and get to the second level. When you look at the run its a million dollar question because every guy in there is talented. I’m optimistic that the run game will get going in these next three games.”

The injuries don’t stop short of the offensive units leader. Redshirt senior quarterback Mike White is also day-to-day after leaving late in the Vanderbilt game with an injury. White was sacked five times and left the game after being tackled from behind when he was scrambling away from a defender.

WKU has now given up 29 sacks this season, the most in C-USA. Sanford has rotated several offensive lineman in and out of the lineup this year, including two freshmen, Tyler Whitt and Cole Spencer, on the right side of the line in last week’s loss. Spencer is the the fifth true freshman to start for the Hilltoppers this year.

The loss to Vanderbilt dropped WKU to 5-4 (3-2 C-USA) as the Hilltoppers finish 2-2 in non-conference play for the third straight season. The Hilltoppers travel to Marshall (6-3, 3-2 C-USA) next Saturday. The Hilltoppers have beaten the Thundering Herd three straight times since joining C-USA in 2014.

“We’re one game away from bowl eligibility, that’s what we have to go out and take care of,” Sanford said. “Whoever the guys are that are going to step up, we’ll go through practice this week and I really believe they’ll do that.”

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.