Week Eight and the battle for the OVC Championship seems to be down to just the two undefeated teams in the conference. The games this week have the playoff feel, especially in our Game of the Week. The week features match ups that on paper look like easy wins for the home side, but don’t overlook this week.
#22 Tennessee State at UT Martin (1 p.m. CDT)
TV: Easily our game of the week as we see the conference’s top two defenses battle it out in Martin, Tenn. The Skyhawks already have lost a conference game and know they can’t drop a second one especially at home. As for the Tigers, they must avoid the trap game and not look forward to a homecoming matchup next weekend against the defending champions.
In our power rankings, I made mention to what Jacksonville State Head Coach Bill Clark said. “When (the TSU defense) stepped on the field, it looked like an SEC defense was on the field.” While I haven’t seen the team in person this season (that all changes tomorrow), the team’s statistics live up to their top billing. The Tigers defense is holding opposing teams to 12 points and 100 yards below their season averages. For the Skyhawks that translates to just over 300 yards of offense if that holds up. Keep in mind, TSU has only allowed over 300 yards once this year.
The Skyhawks on the other hand might have an advantage by making the TSU defense have to prepare for two different quarterbacks. Dylan Favre is expected back this weekend after missing a game with an injured knee and Jarod Neal was ok in his spot. Both quarterbacks present different match ups to prepare for with Neal being the better thrower but he adds nothing to the running game like Favre does.
Speaking of dual quarterback systems, Tennessee State has their own battle between Ronald Butler and Michael German. German is a game-time decision after suffering a shoulder injury last weekend against Jacksonville State. If German is unable to play the Tigers defense will be called upon to win the game as Butler only averages 90 yards passing per game, compared to German’s 145 and zero interceptions.
The ground game is essential for the Skyhawks offense, against Jacksonville State (their only conference loss) UTM struggled for over 100 yards. Both teams love to run the ball but UTM depends upon it much more than the Tigers. While both teams have multiple running backs, the game is a showdown between the conference’s top two. UTM’s D.J. McNeil averages 112 yards per game followed by TSU’s Tim Broughton who averages just under 106 yards but has more touchdowns at five. The other weapon on the ground is Telvin Hooks of TSU who is fifth in the conference with 73 yards a game.
Key to Victory: Sacks
While sacks is a huge deal, hurries should be thrown into this as well. UTM’s offensive line struggled against a good JSU defensive line and TSU’s is much better. If Favre plays, his feet might help him but if it’s Neal then watch out. The same goes for TSU’s offensive line that might have to protect a young quarterback on the road against a defense that likes to bring the blitz. Sacks and hurries could lead to bad decisions. With these two defenses, a bad decision could lead to six points.
Southeast Missouri at #3 Eastern Illinois ( 1:30 p.m. CDT)
TV: A week off their first victory of the season, the Redhawks look for a winning streak for the first time since 2010. SEMO has a steep mountain to climb as they are Eastern Illinois’ homecoming guests.
The Redhawks are down to a one quarterback system according to Head Coach Tony Samuel as Scott Lathrop has gotten the letter of confidence from his coach. It will be interesting to see if it was just Murray State’s porous defense that made the sophomore look as good as he is.
The Panthers have no such quarterback issue, unless you are talking about who gets the first second-team reps when the game is out of reach. Jimmy Garoppolo is on a torrid pace, tossing for almost 400 yards a game. The Redhawks have the third best passing defense but that doesn’t say much. Last week Murray State threw for nearly 300 yards and Austin Peay was the “best” pass defense statistically coming into last week.
Garoppolo’s cast of characters continues to grow as seven different players have caught a touchdown pass from the Walter Payton candidate. The preferred target is another Payton candidate, Erik Lora who is tied for the FCS lead in touchdown receptions. While Lora isn’t putting up the amazing numbers that got him into the spotlight last season, the team is much more potent offensively with Adam Drake and Keiondre Gober combining for 65 catches for 1,031 yards and 12 touchdowns. Running back Taylor Duncan takes advantage of the defense’s focus on the passing game, averaging the third most yards per game in the conference at 84.
The weakest part of these two teams are their field goal kickers. While Southeast Missouri did kick a game-winning field goal last weekend, it was only their second of the season in six attempts. Eastern Illinois isn’t much better as they are just three of eight on three point attempts. When the teams score touchdowns, they stay at the conference’s basement leaving points on the board. SEMO is 9-14 on the year and EIU is 30-37 with the majority of the misses being blocked.
Key to Victory: Turnovers
SEMO needs short field opportunities in order to score and it will be difficult against the conference’s best team who have turned it over just eight times. SEMO has 12 takeaways on the season, with two game-changing takeaways last weekend in their win. The Redhawks will that story to replay itself once again if they want to spoil next weekend’s showdown at LP Field.
Tennessee Tech at Eastern Kentucky ( 3 p.m. EDT)
ZW: Eastern Kentucky hosts Tennessee Tech this Saturday, and it looks like it is going to be another long road trip for the Golden Eagles. Coming off back-to-back losses to Murray State and UT Martin, Tennessee Tech, sitting at the #8 spot in our power rankings, faces a Colonels team that is not as good as previous years but still considered by many one of the better OVC teams. All signs point to a big win for EKU on homecoming weekend.
Playing at home, the EKU offense is hoping to channel the traditions of homecoming and run the ball as they have for years. This season, the Colonels are running for 224 yards per game with their running back-by-committee. Running back J.J. Jude leads the team with 337 yards rushing, but four running backs have over 200 yards for the year. Quarterback Jared McClain is producing on the ground as well. This offense leads the conference in time of possession and will wear down the Golden Eagles if they cannot stop the rushing attack.
EKU’s defense, led by linebacker Tyler Horn, should not have a problem stopping the TTU offense. The Colonels are third in OVC defense with the top-rated rushing defense. These numbers include losses to highly potent offenses, such as Louisville and EIU. Allowing more than 20 points to Tennessee Tech would come as a surprise.
As for Tennessee Tech, they are averaging just over 300 yards of offense, the majority of those coming through the air. Quarterback Darian Stone will likely take the snaps this week after having concussion problems in recent weeks. Stone will need to have an efficient performance to lead the Golden Eagles to victory. If Tennessee Tech turns the ball over, they may not get it back for a long time.
On defense, linebacker Blake Adams had a breakout game against UT Martin, garnering ten tackles. He will need to have another game like this to stop the EKU running game. The front seven must be creative with their gap assignments to fool blockers and keep the running backs in front of them.
Key to Victory: Running the Football
Legendary coach Ron Erhardt once said, “Throw to score, run to win”, and this old adage has never been truer for the EKU Colonels. If they get more than 200 yards on the ground, they will win the game. On the other side, Tennessee Tech will need to round up EKU’s fleet of running backs to have a shot at an upset.
Austin Peay at Murray State (3 p.m. CDT)
TV: One of the conference’s biggest basketball rivalries take it to the gridiron for this week’s game of the week according to ESPN3. (We all know its not though) As is this rivalry didn’t need much to add to it, media reported that the reason Austin Peay moved last week’s game was that this game was more winnable. Knowing Murray fans, that didn’t sit well with them at all.
Both teams are coming into the games off loses with the Govs having yet to win a game in nearly two years (self-imposed) and the Racers off a triple overtime thriller.
The two teams are similar. Both had quarterback battles (Austin Peay’s continues), and depend on one or two players to establish the offense.
For Murray State it is Walter Powell and Jaamal Berry. Powell is the offensive problem-solver, tied with Lora with 12 touchdown receptions. Every team that knows this and focuses on the Walter Payton Candidate and yet the team still finds ways for him to get the ball, even if they don’t kick it to him. The Racers ground game has been all about Duane Brady and Berry. With Brady hampered by injury suffered late in the SEMO game, expect Brady to be limited to the amount of carries he gets against the Govs with their bye week looming on the horizon.
For the Govs, they rely on running back Tim Phillips who is having a productive year for he offense. Placing ninth in the conference in yards per game, the Govs offense depends on time of possession and utilizing a mix of play-action for the air attack. The one key difference is that the Racers have a game-changer in Powell, the Govs don’t and it is holding them back.
If the game lives up to the statistics then both offenses will have no problem moving the ball on the defenses they are facing. Murray State averages 36 points and over 520 yards of offense, Austin Peay comes in at allowing 44 points and only 456 yards of offense. Needless to say, it could be a score-fest.
Key to Victory: Quarterback Play
Racers quarterback Maikhail Miller had game-changing bad decisions last weekend against SEMO that contributed to the team’s loss. Whoever Austin Peay Head Coach Kirby Cannon chooses to go up against the Racers defense should have a good game yard wise against the conference’s worse. Whichever signal caller can play smart, limit turnovers and hit the big play, should get the victory.