With week 1’s money game madness behind us, (mostly) this week we’ll start to get a better look at how the OVC race should shape up. So what am I looking for from week 2?
- EIU’s no-huddle offense attack: Can they consistently move the football, or was Week 1 a one-hit wonder? (As a note, they play an FBS team this week)
- Murray State’s defense: Can they make enough stops to give the “Hatch Attack” a chance against a top-25 FCS team.
- UT Martin: Will there be a letdown against another FBS team after a big Week 1 win at Memphis?
- Will SEMO’s freshman QB Scott Lathrop be able to successfully throw the ball downfield against lower-division Mars College.
- Forget scoring; Can Austin Peay complete more than 2 passes against Virginia Tech?
There are a still a few “throwaway” games from Week 2, including EKU’s rivalry-ish matchup against non-scholarship Morehead State, but all-in-all a good slate of games for early September.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Austin Peay at #16 Virginia Tech
12:30 p.m. (ESPN3)
Austin Peay struggled to move the ball against Western Kentucky, so I don’t have a lot of hope that the Governors will put up much of a fight against a school known for having one of the toughest defenses in the nation year in and year out.
Of course, like Nick Saban has been saying this week, maybe I’m not giving Western Kentucky enough credit. Or…not.
The Governors, in my opinion, need to put the football in the air against Virginia Tech. Yes, running the ball, even badly, will shorten the game and make the final score closer. But who cares? After last week’s 2-11 combined performance, Austin Peay needs to show that they have a passing threat. Short passes, screen plays; Whatever it takes, just get the ball in the air. Give every team in the OVC a reason not to stack the box with seven or eight players on every play come conference season.
Sure, it might tack on another 10 or 14 points onto what is likely to be a very lopsided score, but what are you really learning by handing off the ball for 1 or 2 yards on every play?
Morehead State at #21 Eastern Kentucky
5:00 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
I’m kind of curious: how do students these two schools look at this game? This used to be a rivalry, but the schools haven’t met since 2008, (1995 before that) and the Colonels dominated the series back when it was played on a yearly basis. I called it rivalry-ish…but I’m not even sure if it’s that on the gridiron.
And a better question, would you like to see this become a yearly matchup again?
There are some injury questions for EKU, as mentioned earlier this week, and they’ll hamper the Colonels passing game. The Colonels will play both quarterbacks as TJ Pryor continues to recover from injury, and two of their targets, WE Tyrone Goard (concussion) and TE Matt Lengel (knee) are out. It means more reliance on RB Matt Denham who did net over 100 rushing yards against Purdue a week ago.
The Colonels defense could be up for a challenge, as Morehead State put up 55 points in their opening week win against lower division Southern Virginia. The Eagles came up just short of 500 total yards, thanks in part to senior QB Zach Lewis, who was 16-of-22 for 249 yards and accounted for 5 total touchdowns (4 passing, 1 rushing) in the win.
Eastern Illinois at Western Michigan
6:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
Eastern Illinois was by far the team I was most impressed with in Week 1. After a school record 7 touchdowns against SIU, they face stiffer competition this week in FBS Western Michigan.
They may need every one of those 7 touchdowns again this week. They’ll face off against the nation’s returning passing leader, Alex Carder, although that passing attack wasn’t too effective against Illinois in Week 1, putting up 239 yards through the air, but only getting 7 points thanks in part to 3 interceptions. That’s good news for EIU’s defense, which managed 6 takeaways against the Salukis.
The Panthers gave up over 300 yards through the air, but that was on 60 passing attempts. In fact, statistically, expect the Panthers to finish near or at the bottom of the conference in total defense this entire season, due as much to their speedy, no huddle pace on offense as their defense.
Eastern Illinois defense against the run appeared much approved against SIU, although jumping out to an early lead kept the ball off the ground for the most part. It likely won’t be tested this week either, as the Broncos put up a whopping -6 rushing yards against Illinois.
One thing that does need improvement, penalties. The Panthers had 15 penalties in their opener, including a somewhat baffling Delay of Game (it’s an up tempo offense!) call in the first quarter.
It’s only Week 2, but the Panthers already have an opportunity to match their win total from last season. Are the Panthers already back? We could find out tonight.
Chattanooga at #24 Jacksonville State
6:00 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
If EIU impressed me the post, the Gamecocks impressed me the most in a losing effort in Week 1, putting up over 300 yards against Top-10 ranked Arkansas. Chattanooga isn’t ranked, but knows something about playing top-25 FCS competition. In fact, they’ve got three Top 10 teams on their schedule this season, thanks in part to playing in one of, (if not the) toughest conference in FCS, the Southern Conference. In Week 1 Chattanooga also faced off against FBS competition in UCF, but struggled mightily on offense, with just 176 yards of total offense.
Marques Ivory was 14-28 in his first game back from injury, but given the defense they were up against, that’s far from bad. (Just ask Jake Ryan) 2nd string QB Coty Blanchard took 18 snaps, rushing 9 times for 23 yards, and hitting 4-9 passes for 67 yards. I’m curious to see how the two quarterback system will work in a close game, which they could get this week from the Mocs, who are receiving votes in the Top 25.
Chattanooga has a great defense, including 3 preseason All-Americans, which could cause some issues for the dual quarterbacks. There are some major depth issues for the Mocs: Despite returning 17 starters, there are just seven seniors on the roster. 14 players on the current two-deep are sophomores and freshmen.
Also going against the Gamecocks offense, RB Washaun Ealey has been suspended for tonight’s matchup due to a violation of team rules.
Mars Hill College at Southeast Missouri
6:00 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
Scott Lathrop got his collegiate career off to a solid start as SEMO hung around in Week 1 against Central Michigan, but then something curious happened. The Redhawks were down 11, and Lathrop was taken out of the game and replaced by freshman QB Blake Jackson, who is more of a pocket passer compared to Lathrop’s option attack. Jacksonville State using two quarterbacks in one thing, given that they have 2 experienced quarterbacks, but when you’re trying to develop a redshirt freshman in Lathrop, taking him out after a solid performance in a close game was a little baffling.
This week, both quarterbacks could get more playing time as the Redhawks takes on lower division Mars Hill College, although this time for a different reason. Lathrop will get his second start of the season, and if things go as plan, the Redhawks hope to have a big enough lead to let Jackson take the reigns during the second half.
#20 Central Arkansas at Murray State
6:00 p.m. (OVC Digital Network)
Murray State is on the outside of the FCS top-25 looking in, but that could change with a win against ranked Central Arkansas tonight.
These two head coaches have some history dating back to their Division II days. Chris Hatcher was the head coach at Valdosta State, and was 6-0 against Clint Conque before UCA moved up to FCS.
Murray State struggled to move the ball against Florida State (you can not spin 156 yards of offense and just 9 first downs any other way) and had some untimely turnovers that cost the Racers points in a lopsided loss against one of the top teams in the nation. It wasn’t as bad as the 69-3 final score showed, but it wasn’t a Jacksonville State-like performance either.
We should see the return of the “Hatch Attack,” tonight, but my big question remains with the Racers defense. If the Racers are going to win the OVC in Casey Brockman‘s senior year, they must improve more on this side of the football. In the backfield, we are expected to see Ohio State transfer RB Jamaal Berry tonight, although he is still not on Murray State’s 2-deep depth chart.
Neat final fact: The teams first met in 1940, in Murray. The final? A 0-0 tie. Exciting, no?
Tennessee State vs. Jackson State
It’s the 23rd annual Southern Heritage Classic at Liberty Bowl Stadium, as Tennessee State takes on Jackson State for the 19th straight season. The last two games between these two have been thrilling, with Jackson State squeaking out wins by a touchdown or less.
Despite a near-record 20 penalties, the Tigers are 1-0 thanks to a late goal-line stand in a 17-14 win over Florida A&M. Sophomore QB Michael German had a strong start to the season, hitting 22-32 passes for 263 yards, and senior RB Trabis Ward carried the ball a career-high 28 times for 124 yards. Despite those offensive numbers, the Tigers coughed up the ball 4 times, one reason they struggled to put points on the board.
The team had a good performance in Week 1, but everything nearly fell apart due to numerous miscues on both sides of the ball. If they make smart(er) plays, and get out of their own way, they have the talent to make a run, but they simply can not afford that many miscues if they hope to move up in the conference.
UT Martin at Northern Illinois
6:00 p.m. (ESPN3)
The Skyhawks reward for knocking off FBS Memphis, the school’s first ever FBS win? Another FBS opponent! And this one will likely be tougher than the last. Northern Illinois is coming off an 11-3 season, that was capped by a 38-20 win over Arkansas State 38-20 in the GoDaddy.com Bowl. (One of the worst-named bowl games of all time.) In fact, the Huskies nearly pulled off an FBS upset of their own in Week 1, letting a 4th quarter lead slide away in a 18-17 loss to Iowa.
The Huskies are a tough team to beat at home: they’ve won 15 straight in DeKalb dating back to September of 2009. The Huskies return 18 starters, including almost their entire defense, but do feature a completely new offensive line. They still managed 147 yards on the ground against Iowa. They also recorded 6 sacks, the most for any Division I team in Week 1.
It’s hard to get a good read on UT Martin after their impressive Week 1 win. A long storm delay likely had some affect on the 3rd and 4th quarters, (although I think it would be unfair to say that the delay changed the outcome) and senior K Cody Sandlin missed 2 FG’s before making 2, including the game winner, but also was dealing with a new holder this year.
Last season, UTM was the team that “almost” won a lot of games. So far this season, they’re the team just winning.