Western Kentucky kicked themselves into gear just a few too minutes late Saturday in Huntington. The Tops opened up with a 73-yard touchdown drive that lasted 11 plays capped by Mike White finding Quin Jernighan from six yards out.
Marshall added a 29-yard field goal at the beginning of the second quarter when an 11 play drive of their own stalled in the red zone. On their next possession, the Herd took the lead and never gave it up. Another 11 play drive, this time lasting 65 yards, ended with Keion Davis running it on 4th down from 3 yards away. Kaare Vedvik would get one more field goal before the end of the half to make it a 13-7 game.
Western Kentucky had the ball 3 more times in the first half following their opening score. Those drives went 1 yard, 8 yards, and 2 yards respectively.
On the second drive, Drew Eckels came in for the first few plays at quarterback. He threw one incomplete pass and ran for one yard. In retrospect, the move didn’t make much sense considering White came right back in following those two plays.
WKU coach Mike Sanford on starting backup QB Drew Eckels on the team's second series: "It was another opportunity for us to get some diversity out of our run game.”— Brad Stephens (@BradBGDN) November 12, 2017
Marshall scored to open the second half with a Tyler King rushing touchdown at the end of a 64-yard drive. Western Kentucky had something going on their next drive with White completing four passes in a row, but they ultimately settled for a 28-yard Ryan Nuss field goal.
Both teams went three-and-out on their next drive. Then Marshall managed to pick up a first down, but Chase Litton was picked off by Devon Key at WKU’s 41-yard line. It didn’t make much of a difference, however, as Herd freshman safety Nazeeh Johnson intercepted the first pass of his career and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown.
Then on the ensuing kickoff, WKU returner Jahcour Pearson fumbled and Marshall’s Chase Hancock recovered just outside the red zone. That set up Kaare Vedvik for another field goal. Western answered on the next drive going 73 yards in six plays for a score. Mike White hit Cameron Echols-Luper on a 25 pass for that touchdown. Nuss missed the PAT.
They had a chance to shorten Marshall’s lead further on their next possession. However they were unable to move the ball past Marshall’s 37 yard line and were backed up further by penalties before turning it over on downs.
Western were able to get one more score on their next possession when White found Jernighan in the end zone for the second time, this time from 27 yards out. At that point, there were three minutes left on the clock.
Any hopes of a comeback quickly vanished as the Marshall offense successfully ran the cock out, securing the victory.
For Western Kentucky, this game was yet another demonstration of the ineptness of their run game. In the absence of Quinton Baker, the Tops’ rushing attack netted just 34 yards on 19 carries.
The Hilltoppers only rushed for 34 yards in last night's game - that's the fewest rush yards Marshall has allowed in a game since Ohio managed only 12 yards (24 carries) in the Herd's 21-17 win in the 2009 Little Caesar's Pizza Bowl at Ford Field.— Steve Cotton (@HerdCotton) November 12, 2017
In the passing game, Mike White was 28 of 41 with 334 yards, three touchdown passes and an interception. Echols-Luper was the leading receiver grabbing nine balls for 99 yards. For Marshall, Litton was 17 of 28 for 190 yards with 1 interception. Herd running back Tyler King also turned in an impressive day carrying the ball 22 times for 102 yards (his second highest total of the year) and a touchdown.
A positive note for Western’s defense, along with the interception, is the fact that they were able to sack Litton twice. Marshall’s pass protection had only given up four sacks the entire season prior to Saturday.
WKU drop to 5-5 as they host Middle Tennessee this Friday, 11/17. Marshall improve to 7-3 and they travel to UTSA on Saturday, 11/18.