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Grant Wells oh snap

Marshall quarterback Grant Wells (8) makes his first Conference USA start and his first start on the road Saturday when the Herd visits Western Kentucky.

Talk about blowing smoke.

And there wasn’t even a cigar in sight.

But did that stop Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton from puffing away?

Uh, no.

It all began on a Zoom call with Helton on Monday afternoon. Toward the end of the question-and-answer session, someone asked Helton about young Marshall University quarterback Grant Wells.

Cue the smoke machine.

“In my opinion,” said Helton with a surprisingly straight face, “he has NFL talent.”

Yes, folks, he really said that.

Never mind that Wells is a mere redshirt freshman. Never mind that he has only one FBS game under his belt. And never mind that Marshall’s game against Western Kentucky at 7:30 p.m. Saturday in Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium at Bowling Green, Kentucky, will be the first road game in Wells’ college career.

Why, even in Wells’ one FBS game, he didn’t complete 50 percent of his passes, finishing 11 of 25 for 163 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Yet Helton blew smoke anyway. Tsk, tsk, Tyson.

That would be like veteran Thundering Herd head coach Doc Holliday anointing Hilltoppers’ double-threat quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome as “the next Lamar Jackson.”

Although that would have been “quid pro quo,” it didn’t happen, thank goodness.

Now, don’t misunderstand. This isn’t intended as any slight to young Wells. Who knows? Perhaps, Wells will improve so much during the next three-plus seasons he will be playing in the NFL some day.

But that future isn’t now. Which is precisely why Helton’s words shouldn’t have been spoken now.

So, with all that in mind, what has Holliday told Wells to prepare him for what he might encounter at Western Kentucky?

“I think all the preparation he has done is going to get him ready for that,” explained Holliday. “Hell, we’ve had three weeks to prepare for these guys. He has had plenty of preparation.

“I’ve got confidence in Grant. I thought the one thing that I liked about what I saw with Grant is he had not had any adversity in that first game [59-0 rout of Eastern Kentucky]. In the second game, he had that pick early on. I liked the way he responded against a very good football team.

“He came back, he responded in a positive way, he made the plays we asked him to make and I expect him to do the same. There’s going to be adversity in this game, just like there is in any game.”

It’s called football.

“At the end of the day, to be honest with you, that’s what it is all about,” said Holliday. “It’s about guys that prepare and when their number is called, they make plays. So, hey, just go be you. Don’t be any different than you’ve been the last two games.

“Whether we’re here [Huntington] or Western, it doesn’t matter. The field is the same. Just go out there and be yourself, just like you’ve been the last two games and let the game come to you. But don’t make it any bigger than what it is.”

That’s good advice for a young quarterback who is preparing for his third college game, not the NFL. So is this. Don’t let the smoke get in your eyes, Grant.

Marshall will win 27-14.

Season record: 4-1.