A light schedule today with only two games but one is easily our game of the week. We preview them both right now as we conclude week seven.
Murray State at Southeast Missouri (1 p.m. CDT)
TV: On paper this game looks decided but given the recent results in this series we could be in for anything.The Racers are off to their best start in conference play in over a decade, the Redhawks not so much.
Murray State continues to puzzle us but turnovers are the answer to how the defense gets it done. The Racers are an opportunistic defense to say the least. While they allow 36 points a game, they are third in the conference in takeaways. Whatever gets the victory is something Racer fans will take.
The Murray State offense is the most balanced its been in the Hatcher era, primarily due to quarterback Maikhail Miller whose dual threat ability allows the Racers the opportunity to get big plays when they should be over. This team still depends heavily on Walter Payton candidate Walter Powell leads the conference in receiving touchdowns entering the week with 10. Powell has scored 12 of the Racers 30 touchdowns making him a prime target to be shutdown.
The Racers have addressed this problem the last few weeks by running the ball more and becoming more balanced.
The Redhawks come into the game with fans calling for Tony Samuel’s head, check Twitter during games. The offense has shown glimpses of being good but without an established quarterback it is hard to get consistent play. Backup quarterback Scott Lathrop is getting the nod this week but that doesn’t mean Kyle Snyder won’t see the field. In the last few games, its been best to be the backup.
Defensively the Redhawks have always messed with the Racers, something Head Coach Chris Hatcher mentioned at his press conference. The zone defense prevents the deep plays, forcing the Racers to have long drives that normally has been difficult for Murray State. The Redhawks rush defense has been terrible this year, last in the conference with over 250 yards allowed.
Key to Victory: SEMO Turnovers
As we said above, Murray State depends on the turnovers to keep teams off the scoreboard. SEMO has committed the second fewest in the conference with just nine thus far into the season. If the Redhawks can complete drives and not turn the ball over then we could see the Redhawks get their first win of the season. If Murray State can get their usual three turnovers, then they should have no problem getting the victory.
Tennessee State at #24 Jacksonville State ( 3 p.m. CDT)
ZW: This week’s matchup between Jacksonville State and Tennessee State is another conference rivalry that has been heated the past few years. Last year, the Tigers lost to the Gamecocks in heartbreaking fashion to receive their first loss of the season. This year, the Gamecocks welcome TSU into town for homecoming week . With JSU ranked 24th in the country and TSU just out of the Top 25, this matchup has the makings for another classic.
The story of the game will be the TSU defense. Tennessee State’s size will keep the JSU offense in check and force them to make mistakes. Defensive backs David Van Dyke and Daniel Fitzpatrick have combined for a whopping seven interceptions for TSU half-way through the season, and Max Shortell is tied for a conference worst five interceptions thrown. The Tigers will load the box to stuff the running game, and make JSU one-dimensional.
On offense, TSU is the epitome of balance: 204 YPG on the ground and 204 YPG in the air. The Tigers will throw many formations at JSU’s middle of the pack defense to cause confusion. Look for Tim Broughton and Telvin Hooks to get some big gains in the middle to keep the chains moving.
Jacksonville State’s defense is still a question mark. This middle of the pack defense does have a few playmakers though. Safety Brandon Bender is 2nd in the OVC in tackles, and he will likely continue his pace with the TSU rushing attack getting to the second level. Nose tackle Caleb Lawrence runs fast for his stout size and makes plays all over the field. The Gamecocks will need to wrap up and play sound coverage against play action to keep TSU’s punt team on the field.
Shortell has really sent the Jacksonville State offense into overdrive the past few weeks. What was once a three yards and a cloud of dust team has become a balanced offense with playmaking receivers in Josh Barge and Markis Merrill. JSU will likely throw the ball to the perimeter early in the game to keep the secondary close to the line of scrimmage and then go for the bomb when they are not looking. This scheme has worked so far, but it could be a long afternoon against a tall Tiger secondary.
Key to Victory: Sacks
Last year, Tennessee State won the game in almost every statistical category. The biggest difference was JSU kept the quarterback on the ground. This year, Jacksonville State leads the conference with sixteen sacks, but Tennessee State is not far behind. Keeping the QB on his feet will be paramount for both teams to keep drives going. If either team gets a sack in the red zone, it could completely change the game.