We are now in October, and the games we will see in the OVC every week will be just four. In conference play you only get eight games with six usually being a minimum if you want to win the conference title. Teams with questions marks could either make a point, or be what we think they are. Here is your week six previews.
Jacksonville State at #22 UT Martin (2 p.m. CDT)
ZW:The Gamecock offense finally had a balanced game last week, but three interceptions by Max Shortell put a black mark on the performance. Keep in mind JSU attempted a season-high 34 passes last week, and turnovers can be expected with Shortell’s history and lack of continuity at the QB position. The Gamecocks biggest issue on offense right now is closing out ballgames. The Skyhawks pose a tough challenge this week. After last week’s let down, John Grass will be conservative early and go for the home run once Shortell gets settled in.
Last week’s outing proved JSU’s defense is not as good as previously thought; they were untested. Bill Clark‘s defense, similar to other 3-4 defenses, are good until a mobile quarterback enters the mix. Dylan Favre can make plays on his feet as well, so this week will be another test for Jax State. On a positive note, there was a lot of emotion in the second half of the game last week. Brandon Bender was absolutely crazy between plays, leading cheers to keep the atmosphere alive. While they may be on the road this week, the Gamecock defense realizes they are the most important part of the team and will step up when called upon.
On the sidelines, this is a critical week for the coaching staff. Coach Clark’s honeymoon is over, and a lot of tweaks need to be made to turn the Gamecocks into an OVC powerhouse. This is JSU’s first true road game, and it is against one of the hottest teams in the conference. The Gamecocks will need to get going early and keep level heads to win this one.
TV: The Skyhawks are coming off a surprising 17-7 win at SEMO. Surprising due to the fact that it was only a 10 point victory and even worse all those points were scored in the first half. Returning to Graham Stadium should help the team but the offensive play calling needs to change if this team wants to make the necessary steps to become a top OVC team.
Head Coach Jason Simpson has yet to name a starting quarterback and it seems to be affecting how the team operates. When the season started we thought it was due to having a new QB in the system and knew the team had a great running back in D.J. McNeil who leads the conference with 111 yards a game. Everyone who has covered the Skyhawks knows Favre is the guy, except his head coach and it is scary when your coach doesn’t trust his QB. Taking on a tough Gamecock defense who was run all over last week, the Skyhawks will have to throw the ball because Clark will probably have the box loaded with seven guys.
Defensively we have never been worried about the Skyhawks defense. Allowing 28.5 points a game (inflated greatly to the Boise State game) the team is third in rush defense. Unlike other teams UTM has faced, Jacksonville State brings not one, not two, but three running backs who can take over a game on a few carries. Shutting down the ground game will be tough but this defense has done it before. The passing side of the defense will be interesting to see how much they get tested. As Zack said, JSU might use the run to setup up homerun passes.
Key to Victory: Which QB makes the fewest mistakes
Both teams rely on the their ground game to carry the offense (pun intended). While Shortell will throw the ball more than Favre, he cost his team a victory last week with three interceptions in the second half. Favre has been fumble prone in the past trying to make the big play with his feet. Whichever quarterback embraces their inner Alex Smith should lead his team to victory.
Tennessee Tech at Murray State (3 p.m. CDT)
CB: There are two interesting milestones on the line in Murray this weekend. The Racers are looking for their first 2-0 conference start in over 15 years, while the Golden Eagles look for their fourth win of the year, which would already exceed last year’s win total. Both teams are also coming off thrilling victories: The Racers beating Jacksonville State on a two-point conversion in overtime a week ago, and TTU scoring in the final 90 seconds to upend Indiana State.
Despite the similarity in record, there’s not much alike about the two teams. TTU is much better defensive team, with a run-first quarterback leading the seventh-ranked offense in the league. Murray State’s defense is porous at best, but the Hatch Attack has the Racers as the second best scoring offense in the OVC.
That being said, Murray State’s offense isn’t at the same level we saw last year. They’ve averaging nearly 80 yards fewer a game, and Maikhail Miller isn’t going to be confused for Casey Brockman, although in the positive category he’s much more mobile than last year’s gunslinger. Walter Powell is still a huge threat when Miller can get him the ball in space.
Tennessee Tech could as easily be 1-4 as 3-2, as they’ve pulled out two games that easily could have gone the other way. The Golden Eagles defense and special teams were exceptional in their win against Indiana State last week, winning despite 264 total offense yards. When their defense isn’t able to force turnovers, we get results more like the week before, where Tennessee State hung 41 points in dominating win. The offense isn’t dynamic, with quarterback Darian Stone averaging 110 yards passing a game, while hitting just 53% of his passes.
Hurting their offense more, the Golden Eagles will be without senior running back Bud Golden, who broke his leg in that win against the Sycamores.
Key to Victory: Turnovers
Tennessee Tech’s offense hasn’t been all that dynamic, and even against Murray State’s less than stellar defense, will likely need help to match Murray State point for point. If the Racers keep from turning over the football, they could have a great chance to win at home.
Austin Peay at Eastern Kentucky (6 p.m. EDT)
TV: Austin Peay may be done with toughest non conference schedule ever, but they are pushed right into conference play with the preseason No. 2 who is looking to rebound from a “blowout” loss to the defending champions. The Governors have had two weeks to prepare for the Colonels and Head Coach Kirby Cannon said the bye week came perfectly to let the team heal.
Both teams love to have the ball with their offense, with both sides averaging over 31 minutes of possession. For Austin Peay it was out of necessary due to who they were playing and it didn’t help much. Cannon’s plan of having an offensive identity by the time conference play rolled around hasn’t happened like he would like. With 13 points scored all season, last in both passing and offense, the team is still struggling to find out what they can and can’t do. Cannon is impressed with their running backs, Tim Phillips and Omar Williams have played well for the team. Phillips is ranked ninth in the conference averaging 63 yards on the round a game, accounting for nearly 30 percent of the team’s offensive yards.
Defensively we don’t know much about this team because they have yet to take on similarly competition. Against their only FCS opponent UT Chattanooga, the Govs allowed their second highest point total. Where the team struggled was the ground, something EKU will look to re-establish since they only have one QB on the roster.
As for the Colonels, they look to avoid an 0-2 start in conference for the first time since 2006 and for EKU who looked as bad as you could look last week, they get Austin Peay. EKU has dominated Austin Peay at home, winning the last 13 straight in the series.
The Colonels offense is as inconsistent as we have ever seen. Quarterback Jared McClain has struggled the last few weeks providing only plays with his legs consistently. Backup QB Kyle Romano is out with a high ankle sprain making the backup to McClain wide receiver Ben De La Cruz. On the ground no one has stepped up in back-to-back weeks. J.J. Jude leads the team with 363 yards but Jared Sanders and Caleb Watkins have seen playing time and done well in stretches. Austin Peay could provide a way for the offense to get back on track.
Defensively the usual good Colonels have been far from that, ranking near the bottom in points allowed and passing defense. They can stop the ground ground, which we expect and it could help them against the Govs.
Key to Victory: Govs force and score on EKU turnovers
Eastern Kentucky is turnover prone with nine happening in the Colonels first five games of the year. If Austin Peay can force turnovers and then score like Eastern Illinois, well just once or twice, then it could be a game. If the Govs can’t force turnovers or find the scoreboard, it will be the 14th straight victory by EKU in Richmond.
Southeast Missouri at Tennessee State (6 p.m. CDT)
CB: If you’re looking for an OVC black horse, you could do worse picking Tennessee State. The Tigers are off to a 4-1 start, despite being forced to start a freshman at quarterback through the first five game. Michael German is back, he’s been looking better in each of the Tigers last two games, and Tennessee State is coming off of an absolute destruction of Division II Central State.
Southeast Missouri just looks dark. After a surprising offense performance against Southern Illinois at Busch Stadium, the Redhawks offense was grounded against UT Martin, earning just 306 offensive yards, with both quarterbacks held under 75 yards passing.
SEMO’ s struggling offense faces an even greater challenge in Tennessee State. The Tigers are third in the nation in total defense (252.8 yards per game), fourth in the FCS passing and scoring defense, and 7th in takeaways. If there’s a knock on the Tigers, they haven’t faced the stiffest of competition to this point.
The Redhawks two quarterback system hasn’t been all that effective this year. (None of the OVC’s have been, but SEMO’s is especially noteworthy.) One concern is that the use of two quarterbacks actually makes them more predictable. Scott Lathrop is more of an option quarterback, and Kyle Snyder is a bit more of a traditional, pocket-throwing quarterback. So, it’s fairly easy to tell what the Redhawks are going to do by what QB takes the field.
Tennessee State has done a bit more with theirs. But you want your quarterback to help stretch the field. German does that for Tennessee State (and while Ronald Butler could get the start this Saturday, I can’t imagine German not starting when the competition gets stiffer) and Snyder does that for SEMO. I can’t help but thinking both teams would be better off by putting the ball in the hands of the more dynamic player.
Key to Victory: SEMO’s passing attack
Southeast Missouri is not going to win this game by running the ball; not against this defense. Snyder is going to have to throw the ball, and make big plays to have any chance against the Tigers.