Everyone’s eyes this next week are on the matchup of the two remaining undefeated teams, but there’s a third team that’s still in control of their fate to win an OVC title; and raise your hand if this surprises you, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo breaks another record.
Put your hand down, smart aleck.
Here’s the 10 (or more) things we learned in Week 8:
1) TENNESSEE STATE COULD CHALLENGE EASTERN ILLINOIS
The Tigers were without quarterback Michael German, star cornerback Stephen Godbolt III, and the Tigers made it look easy, in a dominating win over previously ranked UT Martin on the road. Despite just 229 yards of offense, Tennessee State puts up 29 points thanks in part to the defense forcing three turnovers, and blocking a field goal that was returned for a touchdown. No defense has even begun to stop EIU, but if any can, TSU might be that team.
1A) ALTERNATIVELY, TENNESSEE STATE COULD GET BLOWN OUT BY EASTERN ILLINOIS LIKE EVERYONE ELSE
Again, 229 yards of offense. 229! You’re not going to hold EIU to 15 points. There is virtually zero chance of that happening. The Tigers need German healthy, and need their running backs to average more than 1.8 yards a carry. It wouldn’t hurt to be better than 2 for 13 on third down, either.
2) EASTERN ILLINOIS MISSED ANOTHER SPECIAL POINT THIS WEEKEND
Eastern Illinois is 37-45 on PAT attempts this season. That’s not a good percentage. Your quarterback is hitting 66% of his passes this year, maybe you should enact “Madden rules” and just go for two on every touchdown.
2A) …AND STOP KICKING FIELD GOALS
I didn’t realize this until I checked the stats this weekend, but EIU’s kicker, Cameron Berra, is 3-8 on field goals this season. That’s 37.5% accuracy. On fourth down the Panthers are 10-17, a 59% conversion rate. What’s even better: Berra has missed EVERY field goal try under 30 yards. He’s 2-3 from 30 to 39 yards.
2B) …AND MAYBE EVEN KICK ONSIDES ON KICKOFFS
Eastern Illinois averages 47.6 yards per kickoff, eighth in the league. Jacksonville State (which leads the league in kickoff yards and touchbacks) averages 62.2 yards per kickoffs.
2C) …THE PUNTING ISN’T ANY BETTER
Eastern Illinois is dead last in the OVC, averaging 35.1 yards a punt.
3) SOUTHEAST MISSOURI NOW HAS BACK-TO-BACK 30+ POINT GAMES
In their first five games, the Redhawks didn’t break 20 once. In their last two: 37 points against Murray State, and a surprising 33 against Eastern Illinois, including 20 in the first half. EIU’s quick strike offense does give opposing teams more chances to score, as does a 2011-esque two interceptions from quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. Give the special teams (a significant weakness of Eastern Illinois, in case you haven’t noticed) a lot of credit, as the Redhakws returned a punt and a kickoff for a touchdown.
4) MURRAY STATE IS THE REMAINING CHAMPIONSHIP CONTENDER NO ONE IS TALKING ABOUT
That might be because they’re not playing like one. But if Murray State were to win out, which would require them going through both Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois, they would win the OVC. No other team not mentioned in the previous sentence can say that.
5) THE ‘HATCH ATTACK’ APPEARS TO BE GROUNDED
In the first few games of the season, quarterback Maikhail Miller appeared to be a gunslinger. Now, while still highly accurate (hitting 19-22 against lowly Austin Peay) he doesn’t exactly scare a lot of opposing secondaries. Miller’s longest pass of the day was just 21 yards (again, against Austin Peay) and he throws for just 160 yards. Some of that has to do with the Racers trying to run clock in the second half, and running back Jamaal Berry had another monster day, but this isn’t the first week we’ve seen these kind of numbers from Miller.
6) UT MARTIN IS THEIR OWN WORST ENEMY, SECOND EDITION
This is not the first time I’ve written this. The Skyhawks continue to get in their own way, this week’s three turnovers being the latest examples, turning into 10 Tennessee State points. Then there’s the clock malfunction at the end of the first half. Time was kept on the field, and as a result the Skyhawks weren’t able to get off a field goal attempt, despite being on the TSU 8-yard line. Two things here: it’s your home stadium, UTM, so you kind of have yourselves (as a school) to blame for the malfunction in the first place; second, if you know you don’t have a visual clock, don’t you think you should, maybe, kick earlier? Sure you leave a few seconds, but you GET TO KICK A FIELD GOAL.
7) EASTERN KENTUCKY CONTINUES TO BE UNIMPRESSIVE IN WINS
If there was a statistic for ho-hum wins, Eastern Kentucky would lead the nation. I don’t know whether the Colonels 24-10 win over still winless in conference Tennessee Tech was dominant, or lackluster, or just boring. EKU’s ground attack simply hasn’t lived up to it’s billing this year. Sure, they’re leading the OVC in total yards earned on the ground, but not yards per carry, (4th) and their 3.0 average in 50 attempts against TTU isn’t going to help. They scored every time they were in the Red Zone, limited turnovers, and controlled the clock, but EKU isn’t playing like a team picked to finish second in the conference.
8) THINGS GET WORSE BEFORE THEY GET BETTER FOR TENNESSEE TECH
The Golden Eagles host Jacksonville State this week for Homecoming, before traveling to Eastern Illinois. They’ll end the year at Southeast Missouri, before getting to host Austin Peay is what could very possibly be a battle of conference winless teams. I said it early: non-conference wins don’t matter, especially when against inferior competition. Sadly, TTU is proving that to be true.
9) THINGS GET WORSE BEFORE THEY, UM, BEFORE SOMETHING ELSE HAPPENS TO AUSTIN PEAY
It’s basically a proven fact that Murray State’s defense isn’t very good. That makes this weekend’s offensive performance even worse. The Governors are held below 200 yards on offense, their two quarterbacks are both held to 50 yards or fewer through the air. If it weren’t for a Miller interception near midfield, I’m not sure Austin Peay isn’t shut out in this one.
10) REMEMBER WHEN THE OVC EVERY WEEK WAS LIKE THE SEC EAST THIS PAST WEEKEND
You shouldn’t gave to go back far. Like, last year, perhaps. The Ohio Valley knows a little something about cannibalizing itself.