Is the OVC race over? While technically the answer is no, I’m hard pressed to come up with any scenario that puts a one-loss team on top of the final standings. And was Austin Peay’s 24-point loss actually their most impressive game of the year? 10 things we learned in week 9:
1. WE’RE SEEING WHAT THE OVC HAS BEEN LACKING DURING THE PAST DECADE.
Here’s the thing: Tennessee State is a FCS tournament quality team, on par with Ohio Valley Conference champions of the last decade, all of which lost their opening round game. But the gap from No. 20 to No. 1 in the FCS is huge, which is what we’re learning this year with Eastern Illinois.
Every year, it seems like we start blaming the refs, or playing on the road for those obligatory January losses. This year should make it clear why the OVC has suffered for so long — The Panthers are in a different class from the rest of the conference, and this has been the case for the OVC representative for years.
2. ALL FOUR ROAD TEAMS WON THIS WEEK
Sure, all four road teams were favored, but in the chaos-friendly OVC, seeing four road favorites win in the same week is rare.
3. TSU (STILL) NEEDS A BIT OF A REALITY CHECK.
Headline from “The Tennessean” after Saturday’s loss: “TSU believes OVC crown still possibility after loss.” In other years, mass chaos could and almost certainly would ensue the last four weeks of the season. But this year? Forgot Eastern llinois losing twice, which would be necessary for the Tigers to take the conference crown, who beats them once down the stretch?
I’m not saying head coach Rod Reed should have come out and said “it’s all over.” But there is still a obtainable goal on the horizon, reaching the FCS playoffs. I’m hoping that’s what he’s telling his players behind closed doors, and not to be hoping for an OVC title, which I’d put TSU’s odds of winning at 50:1, at best.
4. EKU MAY BE SILENTLY PUTTING TOGETHER AN FCS TOURNAMENT RESUME
Eastern Kentucky hasn’t looked dominant often this year, but they’re still winning, which ultimally is what’s most important. This week, they host Tennessee State in what may be an FCS tournament eliminaton game, especially for the Colonels. They still face the toughest part of their OVC slate, with road trips to Jacksonville State and Murray State on the horizon, as well as hosting UT Martin. If they win out, you have to put the Colonels, who would be 9-3, in the playoffs, right?
5. JACKSONVILLE STATE CAN’T AFFORD ANY MORE INJURIES
Despite a pair of conference losses, The Gamecocks aren’t out of the FCS playoff race either, thanks in part to the 5th toughest schedule in the FCS to this point in the season. (Although with Eastern Illinois still on the schedule, avoiding a third OVC loss will be quite a challenge) But the injury bug continues to bite the Gamecocks hard, forcing JSU to use their third string quarterback in the second half of Saturday’s win over TTU. Kyle West looked solid, throwing for two touchdowns, but Tennessee Tech is by no means a powerhouse, still looking for their first conference win.
6. UT MARTIN ALLOWED AUSTIN PEAY TO DOUBLE THEIR SEASON TOUCHDOWN TOTAL
Sure, the number was just two, and UT Martin cruised to an easy win, but there is some reason for concern about the Skyhawks defensive performance. Austin Peay put up 218 yards of rushing on the day, mostly without their top back Tim Phillips. Despite missing more than 50% of his throws, redshirt freshman Timar Mitchell threw for two touchdowns and no interceptions in his first career start. And Austin Peay controlled time of possession, even in the second half where UTM should have been running clock, not the Governors. I know it was a 24-point win, but it wasn’t the Skyhawks best performance of the year.
7. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI HAS A CHANCE FOR A WINNING STREAK
That’s not a joke. SEMO next three games: hosting non-Division I Urbana University, hosting Tennessee Tech, and at Austin Peay. There’s no reason why they couldn’t win all three of those games, heading into their season ender at Jacksonville State. They’ve shown flashes of offense in two of the past three weeks, something TTU and AP have both struggled to do.
8. TENNESSEE TECH CANNOT STRETCH DEFENSES
Playcalling isn’t the issue: TTU ran 33 running plays this past weekend versus 28 passing. It’s that in 23 passing attempts, (the other five resulted in sacks) your quarterback, Darian Stone, connected on just eight. Eight. Forgot even for a moment that one of those passes went for 33-yards, if your quarterback is missing two out of every three throws, defenses aren’t going to be in a hurry to drop into a nickel defense. Hit a quick pass. Set up a screen play. There’s zero reason for a defense to keep eight men out of the box against this offense right now.
9. MURRAY STATE’S BYE WEEK COULD NOT HAVE BEEN BETTER TIMED
This actually has nothing to do with their on-the-field performance, but rather their off-the-field problems, namely the arrest of wide reciever Walter Powell. By the time he takes the field next Saturday, it will have been nearly two weeks since his arrest, which almost certainly means fewer questions from reporters about “distractions.”
10. WARNING FOR THE HYPE MACHINE: WE HAVE ALREADY HAD THE OVC GAME OF THE YEAR
And it wasn’t last week. As much as we wanted to hype EIU at TSU, the game was pretty much a dud. TSU at EKU seems like a big matchup on paper this next week. But, let’s be honest, is there any game that’s going to top Murray State’s OT win at Jacksonville State in Week 5? A game won, as a reminder, on a gutsy two-point conversion. As much as we like to hype games in November, I’ll be surprised if any prove to be as entertaining as those teams conference opener in September.