Questions surrounding who will start at quarterback for Western Kentucky have been circling since Kevaris Thomas came in during the third quarter of Saturday’s loss to Marshall and sparked the offense to its only two touchdowns in the game.

The answer – at least publicly – isn’t clear.

“Y’all are going to have to wait and see on Saturday,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said Thursday in his final media availability before Saturday’s 12:30 p.m. game against UAB at Legion Field in Birmingham, Ala.

“We repped everybody like we always do,” Helton said. “Things were good. It was a normal week, just like we always have. I felt like all the quarterbacks did a nice job this week.”

The change in quarterbacks came after the Hilltoppers (1-3 overall, 1-1 Conference USA) were already down 35-0 in the third quarter of the 38-14 loss to the Thundering Herd. Tyrrell Pigrome, WKU’s starting quarterback for its first four games, had pleased the staff with his improvements through his first three games, but the Maryland graduate transfer took a step back Saturday after coming off a C-USA Offensive Player of the Week performance in the Hilltoppers’ lone win at Middle Tennessee. The Birmingham, Ala., native had just 61 yards on 12-of-21 passing and 28 yards on seven rushing attempts, with two fumbles. WKU also fumbled when he tried to hand off to Jakairi Moses in the third quarter, resulting in a 38-yard Marshall scoop-and-score.

When Thomas entered the game for a drive starting with 9:14 left in the third, WKU had 91 yards and 0 points. It finished with 294 yards, with the redshirt sophomore accounting for 148 yards and a touchdown on 9-of-18 passing, plus a team-high 30 yards rushing on seven attempts. Thomas, a four-star player at Lakeland High School in Lakeland, Fla., and the highest-rated recruit to sign with WKU, had a 51-yard pass to Xavier Lane – the team’s longest play of the year – and a 26-yard touchdown pass to Dalvin Smith.

WKU offensive coordinator Bryan Ellis declined to comment Tuesday on who would start Saturday’s game at quarterback, but was pleased with their practice early in the week.

“I thought with the quarterbacks, we put some stuff in today that I thought they executed well,” he said. “There’s a lot of positives going into this week, and it started with their attitudes and effort. That’s what you can control in life, and they really showed up ready to go today.”

Last season, WKU entered its game with UAB (3-1, 1-0) without announcing a starting quarterback – Steven Duncan was hurt the game before – and the team went as far as removing the starting quarterback from the video board introductions at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Ty Storey started the game, which WKU won 20-13.

Helton said Pigrome has kept the same composure this week that he’s had during his time with the Tops, despite Saturday’s loss and the prospect of returning home, where he led Clay-Chalkville High School to a pair of state championship games and was named the 2015 Gatorade Alabama Player of the Year.

“He’s been good. He’s always the same guy – very relaxed, very calm. He’s been fine,” Helton said. “I think the whole team, to be honest with you, really hasn’t batted an eye. Everybody’s been really focused, been very upbeat – the coaches, everybody.

“I think we realize again this is an important game and it’s going to take our best effort all week to be able to get out there and have good results on Saturday.”

It wasn’t a quarterback that led WKU to last year’s win over UAB, which started an 8-2 stretch to end the season, however. It was the defense.

The Hilltoppers intercepted Tyler Johnston III four times, but won’t be facing him this fall. Johnston is out with an injury to his non-throwing shoulder, and Bryson Lucero is expected to start. Lucero, a redshirt freshman who has appeared in all four of UAB’s games, has 652 yards and six touchdowns on 47-of-78 passing.

The last time the Blazers played – their only loss was to now-13th ranked Miami 31-14 on Sept. 10 – Lucero had 195 yards and three touchdowns in a 21-13 win over UTSA, but also had three interceptions, and WKU hopes to make him uncomfortable like it did Johnston last year.

“I know on paper the offensive line is a big group, it’s kind of an experienced group – a couple of new guys here and there,” WKU defensive coordinator Clayton White said Wednesday. “I think we’ve just got to play relentless and play fast and just go down there with a reckless abandon, utter disregard for our body and freaking do what we’ve got to do to get to the quarterback at the end of the day.”

WKU will also have to handle Spencer Brown, UAB’s 6-foot, 220-pound running back who entered the season with 3,122 career yards rushing and is currently fourth in the nation in total yards rushing with 450. White said he’s improved from last year, when he had 70 yards on 21 carries against WKU and became UAB’s all-time leading rusher.

“I think he’s shed some pounds and he took advantage of the quarantine time. I think that’s impressive and shows a lot of who he is as a person and his character,” White said. “... He’s definitely an all-around back and I’m definitely impressed with how he plays.”

WKU’s best defensive performance came in its 20-17 win at Middle Tennessee on Oct. 3, when it got off to a strong defensive start with five tackles for loss in the first quarter, but Helton says UAB is more like the Louisville team the Hilltoppers lost to 35-21 in the season opener.

“They’re an outside zone team, inside zone team. They want to run the ball and then take big shots down the field,” Helton said. “... We’ve got to be a disciplined defense and don’t let them get the easy plays. Every scheme’s different, but at the end of the day when they decide they want to throw it, we’ve got to get pressure on the quarterback.”

WKU leads the series 4-3, but UAB hasn’t lost at Legion Field since the program returned to action in 2017. The Blazers have the third-longest active home winning streak at 20 games.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.

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