MCGILL: Wells posts record-setting debut, defense dominates in win

Special to HNN Provided by Herd Zone

By Chuck McGill

Huntington - In a college football season filled with uncertainty, there is little doubt now in regard to Marshall's future at quarterback.

Charleston native Grant Wells, a week after officially being named the Thundering Herd's new QB, made his debut behind center in record-breaking fashion. Wells set a program record for most passing yards in a quarterback's debut, igniting Marshall to a comfortable 59-0 win against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday afternoon at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.

"You can't hardly script it much better than it went," Marshall coach Doc Holliday said.

An ESPN nationally televised audience watched as Wells completed his first eight passes. In fact, his first incompletion – a slightly high throw that deflected off the intended receiver's hands – did not come until 1:52 p.m., 49 minutes after kickoff. Some QBs have a favorite target; Wells found just about anyone for a completion.

Wells' first complete pass was to sophomore receiver Broc Thompson. The first touchdown pass of Wells' career came on a beautiful 22-yard throw to the end zone to senior tight end Xavier Gaines. Senior tight end Garet Morrell caught a career long pass in the first quarter and snagged a 2-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter. Sophomore receiver Talik Keaton set a personal best for receiving yards and had a career long reception. Senior receiver Jaron Woodyard scored on a 42-yard bomb, his first collegiate touchdown.

And that was in the first half alone.

"He does the same thing in practice," Marshall senior safety Nazeeh Johnson said of Wells. "He puts the ball on the money every time. It's not new."

Marshall (1-0) won its home opener for the 10th consecutive season, and dominated the visiting Colonels, from nearby Richmond, Kentucky, in any relevant statistic one can find.

Wells finished his debut 16-for-23 passing for 307 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions. The 307 passing yards by Wells sets an MU record for most by a Herd QB in his debut, surpassing Stan Hill's 292 passing yards against Miami (Ohio) On Nov. 12, 2002. In that game, Hill also threw four touchdown passes, which along with Wells' debut Saturday and Chase Litton's first action against Norfolk State in 2015 creates a three-way tie for that single-game mark.

"I don't know if I quite imagined it would turn out like this," Wells said. "but I'm happy all this preparation we've been going through since May has paid off."

The Herd's success wasn't all about the offense, though.

While the Marshall offense generated 34 first downs, the EKU offense managed seven. The Herd out-rushed the Colonels 282-86. Overall, MU out-gained its opposition 627-166. The game was so lopsided, senior punter Robert LeFevre took the day off.

The Herd had zero punts and allowed zero points.

"It starts with the defense," Holliday said. "They went out there and shut that team out, which is huge."

Wells was 3-for-3 with 48 passing yards on his opening drive as a college QB, finishing the drive with a dart to Gaines to make it 7-0, Herd, with 12:19 left of the first quarter. Four minutes later, reigning Conference USA Most Valuable Player Brenden Knox bullied his way into the end zone from 8 yards out to make it 14-0, Marshall, with 8:04 left of the first quarter.

Keaton scored on a 21-yarder from Wells with 2:01 left of the first quarter. Wells rolled to his left and stopped in his tracks to lob a short 2-yarder to Morrell for a touchdown to make it 28-0 with 10:02 left of the first half.

Woodyard's diving catch in the end zone, a 42-yard rainbow from Wells, came with 3:07 left in the first half to make it 38-0, Herd.

Wells finished the first half 13-for-20 for 280 yards and four touchdowns – all to different receivers.

"I thought the receivers made a lot of big-time plays," Holliday said.

For the day, sophomore running back Knowledge McDaniel was the third running back added to the rotation, but led the team in rushing yards (93) on 14 carries. Knox added 18 carries for 85 yards. Junior running back Sheldon Evans and sophomore running back Lawrence Papillon also scored on the ground.

In addition to Wells, sophomore quarterback Luke Zban completed all six of his passes in relief, totaling 38 yards and his first career touchdown pass. Thompson caught five passes for 67 yards, leading the team in reception. Keaton paced the team with 68 receiving yards. Five different players caught touchdown passes.

"I think we had 13 different receivers catch the ball and that hadn't happened in a while," Holliday said.

In the end, it was an all-around impressive win for Marshall, which now waits two weeks before hosting Appalachian State at Joan C. Edwards Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 19.

"I've said this before: I've been going against the best defense in Conference USA," Wells said. "Our defense showed out day, probably more than our offense … it's a pretty good feeling when you have the ball and the other team has zero points."

 

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