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King

Thundering Herd running back Tyler King (3) dives for yardage against Western Kentucky linebacker Masai Whyte (25) and Hilltoppers defensive lineman DeAngelo Malone (10) during a 2018 game between the teams at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky.

HUNTINGTON — As Marshall’s offense starts to watch film of Western Kentucky, there will be one player who stands out during the film session.

That player is Western Kentucky defensive end DeAngelo Malone, and he stands out for good reason.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound senior from Atlanta, Georgia, has made a career out of living in the offensive backfield during his time with the Hilltoppers.

Malone is a combination of speed and power off the edge that has proven to be a nightmare for the opposition to handle.

Such was the case again on Saturday when Malone instantly got the game’s defensive tone kicked off with a sack of Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher O’Hara before later blocking a field goal in the Hilltoppers’ 20-17 road win over the Blue Raiders.

Malone had the Herd’s attention as much as any Western Kentucky player over the last two weeks as they prepared for this week’s contest against the Hilltoppers.

“We’re preparing for him as much anyone,” Marshall offensive coordinator Tim Cramsey said. “I think he’s a really good player.”

Last season, Malone won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year honors after a statistical year that rivaled many in C-USA history.

Malone finished with 21 tackles for loss, including 11 sacks, while notching 99 total tackles on the year.

He was part of a defensive line that got pressure against the pass and was tough to handle against the run.

Cramsey said that Malone’s game has taken another step in 2020 as he’s put on weight, which makes him that much more dangerous and difficult to account for.

“It looks like he’s put a lot of weight on this year as opposed to last year,” Cramsey said. “I’d have called him a longer, leaner kid last year. He still has the same athletic ability, still has the same long arms, still has the same technique — all that type of stuff — plus 25 or 30 pounds that he may have put on.”

Malone has picked up in 2020 right where he left off in earning the league’s top defensive award last season.

His season started with strong performances against Louisville and Liberty in a pair of losses, but he was key as the Hilltoppers got into the win column in their Conference USA opener.

In the Middle Tennessee win, Malone finished with a stat line that may have seemed rather pedestrian — five tackles, one sack and the blocked kick.

However, the focus that the opposition puts on stopping him also paves the way for his teammates, making everyone around him better, which maximizes his impact.

Cramsey said Western Kentucky is finding ways to get him into favorable matchups along the edge, too, which means the Herd’s focus is going to be on stopping No. 10 wherever he may be.

“They’ve done a good job of moving him right and left whereas last year, we kind of knew where he was going to be,” Cramsey said. “He’s definitely someone we’ve got to know where he’s at. Running backs might want to take a little shot on him in the pass game as they leave the pocket.”

Marshall was able to do so last year in the Herd’s 26-23 win over the Hilltoppers in Huntington.

Malone finished with a season-low four tackles and it was only one of two games in 2019 in which he did not have a tackle for loss.

The veteran defensive end for Western Kentucky has also never tasted victory over the Herd, meaning there is plenty of incentive for a big game this weekend as Western Kentucky takes on Marshall.

Cramsey is well aware of what Malone brings to the table and means to the Hilltoppers’ defense, which is why his offensive line has gotten added looks of Malone in days leading up to Saturday’s battle in Bowling Green, Kentucky.

“We’ve got to know where he’s at,” Cramsey said. “Our tackles are preparing for him and studying his moves and what he likes to do and where he likes to come from.”