If you were looking for signs the Skyhawks would fall last week, my letter to FCS coaches begging them to take a second look at UT Martin probably should be considered.
The good news: there will be no such letter this week. Here are the 10 things we learned in Week 6.
1) The second best team in the OVC is…
Um. Is multiple choice okay? Because I’m not sure we’re even close to knowing the answer.
Jacksonville State, who beat UT Martin, lost at home to Murray State. But before the crown the Racers, we have to address their defense, because it’s going to cost them before the season is done; the only question is how often. Tennessee State is 5-1, (2-0) but none of their wins seems all that impressive, and for some reason they refuse to start their most experienced quarterback who can better stretch the field.
2) All this parity is bad for the Ohio Valley Conference
It’s fun and makes for exciting seasons, but when it comes to getting recognition on the national stage, it’s horrible. UTM will fall from the top-25 ranks this week, (likely never to return) and no other OVC team was all that close to making it in the rankings last week. That leaves just Eastern Illinois at a top-10 team.
But now, any potential loss for the Panthers is that much worse. Given their quality wins, it was conceivable that a EIU squad with one OVC loss could be a top-8 seed and earn a first-round bye. Now, any conference loss is magnified, because no one else in the conference looks that good.
Parity is great when your on top, like in the Missouri Valley Conference. When you’re not, it’s a barrier to reaching that peak.
Need a case in point, look no farther than basketball. The OVC’s rise the past few years came thanks in huge part to Murray State’s and Belmont’s dominance, not from having a four-team scrum at the top of the standings.
3) Does Tennessee State’s defense really stand alone?
Statistically, there’s no better defense in the ranks of the FCS than TSU. The Tigers are allowing just 248.8 yards a game, but as mentioned above, the competition matters. Unlike most FCS teams, there’s no FBS opponent to skew the numbers, and the Tigers have played a Division II team, and likely two of the three bottom teams in the conference, especially from an offensive point of view. I want to see what the Tigers do in the next three weeks, against Jacksonville State, UT Martin, and especially Eastern Illinois before crowing the TSU defense.
4) Jacksonville State’s offense is really solid
The first few weeks of the Bill Clark era were a bit rough, but the Gamecocks are really flexing their offensive muscle the past few weeks. After putting up over 600 yards in a loss to Murray State, the Gamecocks put up 438 yards on 66 plays (6.6 yards per play) against a much better defense in UT Martin. The more impressive part is they scored touchdowns, not field goals, when in the red zone. Their defense has been opportunistic, but not the most solid in the secondary. But Max Shortell has proven he’s the right guy under center, and DaMarcus James may be the best true running back in the OVC.
5) Murray State’s defense was much improved, against a much less talented offense
Don’t go straight to the total yardage: holding TTU to 363 doesn’t seem all that impressive. Until you realize the Golden Eagles ran 93 plays from scrimmage. Their average per play: 3.9 yards. Throw in two interceptions, and you have without a doubt the best all around performance from the Racers this season.
6) It’s a lot easier to play defense against you when you can’t stretch the field, Tennessee Tech.
Jared Davis‘ longest completion? 17-yards. Davis was a solid 26-42, but the entire point of having a passing game is to stretch the defense, to provide more holes for your rushing game. Still though, 207 yards passing is actually a step up from past weeks, so it’s not all bad news.
7) You shouldn’t read anything into the Colonels dominating win
You should beat Austin Peay easily, especially at home. Sure, the Colonels rushed for an impressive 321 yards on 46 attempts. Yes, the defense held the Governors to an embarrassing 108 total yards of offense. This says much more about Austin Peay than it does EKU.
8) Southeast Missouri isn’t likely to avoid an 0-8 start
It’s unlikely to get any worse than 0-8, as the Redhawks host non-Division I Urbana on November 2nd. But before that game, the host Murray State and Eastern Kentucky, and travel to Eastern Illinois. They’re best chance is likely next week against the Racers, but SEMO will almost undoubtedly need to put up 30 or more points to have a serious chance.
9) Austin Peay hasn’t given me a reason to believe they don’t go winless
They finish the season at home against SEMO and at Tennessee Tech, which are undoubtedly their best chances for a win. But those teams have shown flashes of being a pretty good team: The Redhawks showed they can stretch defenses against SIU, and TTU’s defense has stepped up in wins over Indiana State and Hampton. I hope they find a win, I think they’re (slowly) heading in the right direction under new head coach Kirby Cannon, but not this year.
10) UT Martin may be their own worst enemy
This week was disappointing for Skyhawks fans, certainly, but it feels like UT Martin is beating themselves as much as they are losing. Two turnovers, and giving up possible points on a failed fourth down conversion from the JSU 20 in the first quarter, the Skyhawks let a lot of chances slip through their fingers. Those three possessions, by the way, led to 13 JSU points.
I’m not saying they win if those mistakes don’t happen. They still need to find some answers on defense. But they would have had a much better chance.