HUNTINGTON — Neither Marshall redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells or senior center Alex Salguero are shying away from the obvious as they get set for Saturday’s matchup with No. 23 Appalachian State.
Among Marshall’s veteran-laden offense, they are the two new guys on the block.
They are also the two most vital cogs in terms of going against the Mountaineers at 3:30 p.m. Saturday at Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
Appalachian State’s three-man defensive front is geared toward bringing multiple blitz looks and using its athleticism and deception to confuse the offense.
And who is responsible for making sure that Marshall’s offensive line and skill guys are on the same page in terms of pre-snap looks? You guessed it. Salguero gets the offensive line into its look, and Wells gives the skill players their read.
“We put a lot of that on our center on our offensive line, and then Grant can get them right, if need be,” Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said. “That’s stuff we’ve obviously been working on these last two weeks and, really, all throughout.”
It will be the game within the game during Saturday’s nationally televised contest on CBS.
Salguero watched Appalachian State’s opener against Charlotte — a 35-20 win — and said the 23rd-ranked Mountaineers elevate the bar for the Herd as they come into Huntington.
“They are all just moving so fast,” Salguero said. “The whole defense looked fantastic out there, so we — us as Marshall — have to bring our best game on Saturday.”
Wells said Appalachian State’s defense did not look much different against Charlotte from that which was seen on the 2019 film, which means there weren’t a lot of adjustments that had to be made for this week’s practice plan.
However, what the Mountaineers do with their scheme, they do exceptionally well, which still means the Herd has its work cut out for it on Saturday.
“They’re going to be a good football team,” Wells said. “We saw that on Saturday when they played Charlotte. I think everybody is ready for them to come in and allow us to prove how good of a team we can be.”
Appalachian State’s defense is led by a pair of defensive backs in preseason All-American Shaun Jolly and senior Shemar Jean-Charles, whose strength in coverage bolsters the ability of the defense to bring multiple blitz looks successfully.
“Those corners, to me, are probably some of the best players on their defense and it allows them to be a little free with the other guys and get guys in the box late,” Cramsey said.
The three-man front Appalachian State employs means the box is full of quick, explosive players who can come from all angles and wreak havoc against both the run and the pass.
“They’re fast, physical and they move a lot, so during this week in practice, O-linemen, running backs and quarterbacks have to make sure we’re all on the same page when they do their movements and stuff so we know who to pick up and who to go to,” Salguero said.
For both Salguero and Wells, this will be their first start against an FBS-level opponent after having gotten a taste during the team’s opening 59-0 win over Eastern Kentucky.
It is a top-tier opponent as well, with Appalachian State having gone 13-1 in 2019 and coming into Joan C. Edwards Stadium as a ranked foe that knocked off a solid Conference USA side in Charlotte a week ago.
In that 35-20 win over Charlotte, the Mountaineers allowed just two field goals over the last 55 minutes of game action. The 49ers’ only other touchdown came on a kickoff return.
For Marshall to be successful, the Herd must find a way to sustain drives — something the team did well against Eastern Kentucky with seven of 63 yards or more.
It is a battle Cramsey is eager to see develop.
“It ought to be a good matchup there,” Cramsey said. “I think any team that plays us is still, at this point, going to come in and say, ‘We need to stop Knox, stop the run game and force the throw game to beat us.’
“We’ve got to be able to throw and catch early in the game, take some shots early in the game on them, back them up and see if we can clear that box out a little bit.”