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Western Kentucky plays host to unbeaten Marshall in Conference USA showdown on Saturday night

Western Kentucky University plays host to unbeaten Marshall at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Bowling Green. The Thundering Herd enter that contest with a 2-0 record, while WKU is 1-2.

Marshall freshman quarterback Grant Wells, who has generated considerable buzz with his play through two games, is 27 for 48 for 470 yards and four touchdowns against one interception. He also has 12 carries and 73 yards with another touchdown.

Wells certainly has the attention of WKU head coach Tyson Helton.

Marshall freshman quarterback Grant Wells has passed for 470 yards and four touchdowns. (Marshall photo)

“First of all, I think he’s a really good quarterback,” Helton said. “I think he’s got a tremendous future. In my opinion, he has NFL talent. He anticipates the passing game. He gets the ball out of his hands. He’s accurate down the field with the football. He’s athletic enough to get out of trouble. He brings a different problem to our defense than the first three weeks.

“Now you’re facing more of a guy who is going to try and tear you up in the passing game, but at the same time he can out of trouble and make quality runs. We’ll have a tremendous challenge defensively.”

Wells debuted as Marshall’s starter on Sept. 5, throwing for 307 yards on 16-of-23 passing and four touchdowns against Eastern Kentucky. He won Conference USA Offensive Player of the Week honors after that performance. In his second career start, Wells completed 11 passes on 25 attempts for 163 yards, but did not throw a touchdown pass in a 17-7 win against nationally ranked Appalachian State.

“That’s the hardest part of coaching quarterbacks, especially with a quarterback with as much arm talent as Grant has,” said Tim Cramsey, Marshall’s offensive coordinator. “The week before he made some of those throws in tight windows, and then the next week the defense is getting a finger on the ball or a hand on the ball in those tight window throws. That’s part of the maturing process for the quarterback and making great decisions in those situations. What you can’t do is take away the belief to make some of those throws.

“What I liked about what Grant did, he did not get rattled. He threw the pick and came back and played his game. He took some chances … then he came back and played a solid game. He was really good on third downs … making throws and making the reads.”

That’s why Wells will receive different looks from a talented WKU defense. The Marshall offensive line has allowed two sacks in two games this season. The Hilltoppers have five sacks, including two by reigning Conference USA Defensive Player of the Year DeAngelo Malone. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior defensive end had 11.5 sacks last season, although he has never recorded a sack against the Herd.

“We’ve got to get after the quarterback,” Helton said. “We’ve got to get after him, bring pressure, move him off his spot and make him feel uncomfortable.”

Wells has had plenty of time to prepare for that. Marshall defeated Appalachian State on Sept. 19, but did not play the past two weekends because of changes in the regular season schedule. Now, instead of a four-game non-conference schedule leading into the C-USA opener, the Herd has had two chances to prepare for league play.

The Hilltoppers won their league opener last Saturday against Middle Tennessee by a 20-17 score. WKU quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome was named the C-USA Offensive Player of the Week after completing 21-of-36 passes for 188 yards and two touchdowns, while adding 55 rushing yards in that victory.

(Information compiled from Marshall, WKU and staff reports)

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