The day has come that we have been waiting almost two years to happen. The big game between the conference’s best offense takes on the conference’s best defense. While that gets all the attention there are still three other games that could play a role in who is the dark horse that could come from third in November. Here are your week nine previews.
Eastern Kentucky at Southeast Missouri (1 p.m. CDT)
TV: The Colonels drive to Southeast Missouri for the latest in a one sided series. EKU dominates the series having won 20 of the 23 contests that have taken place.
The Colonels have returned to their winning ways having won their last two games against the OVC’s basement and will get a test against a Redhawks squad that has shown some life over the past few weeks.
The Colonels went pass happy compared to their usual routine throwing for nearly 200 yards last weekend against TTU and rushed for 149 yards. EKU has been more than unimpressive this season when they were voted the preseason number two in the conference but a win keeps the Colonels in the OVC championship hunt with just one loss.
Eastern Kentucky quarterback Jared McClain hasn’t thrown for over 200 yards this month during OVC play and could get the chance against a SEMO secondary that allows nearly 250 yards per game.
For the Redhawks, quarterback Scott Lathrop is the guy and has job security with back-to-back games with the scoreboard showing over 30 points. The sophomore QB is averaging just 90 yards per game on the season but is averaging 182 yards since he has been named the starting quarterback. The dual threat ability has added the boost that could help the team convert on third downs against the Colonels.
Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech (1:30 p.m. CDT)
CB: Both teams meeting in Cookeville this weekend are following the same season arc. Both had great starts to the 2013 campaign, only to fall on harder times since conference play opened. Tennessee Tech broke the 30-point barrier in three early season wins, but haven’t done so in four conference losses. The Gamecocks defense, which held their first five opponents under 30 points to start 5-0, has allowed two of their last three over 30, both losses.
30 points just may be the magic number in this one.
Of course, Tennessee Tech would just like to get 30 yards on the ground. In last week’s loss to Eastern Kentucky, the Golden Eagles were held to a season-low 27 yards rushing. The passing game wasn’t much better, as Jared Davis threw for just 173 yards. A late touchdown made the final score look competitive, but the game was anything but.
The Golden Eagles offense has a problem we’re seeing across middling teams in the OVC: Their quarterback can’t stretch the field, causing defenses to keep eight men in the box. A one-dimensional offense isn’t hard to stop.
Jacksonville State has had a similar problem at times, but seems closer to a solution, if they can keep their guys on the field.
Max Shortell, who had two great weeks before leaving the game against Tennessee State with a sprained knee, is expected back under center for the Gamecocks on Saturday. But wide receiver Markis Merrill, who is out for the season with a dislocated hip, and Dalton Screws, lost for several weeks to a broken collarbone, won’t be available targets for the JSU gunslinger.
UT Martin at Austin Peay (4 p.m. CDT)
TV: The Skyhawks look to rebound once again from a loss at home while the Governors continue to look for their first victory of the season.
The focus is on the quarterbacks once again as both teams are using backups as injuries in the month of October have the football and not a clipboard in their hands. The Skyhawks will be with Jarod Neal, possibly for the rest of the season, and the offense has been struggling with him at that helm. Defenses can now focus on shutting down the Skyhawks ground game that is pivotal to their game plan. The one-time expected starter, Neal has struggled protecting the ball. Neal has completed 61 percent of his passes but has just two touchdowns and four interceptions in seven appearances this season. This week offers a chance for Neal to gain some confidence taking on a pass allowing 8.2 yards per completion and with only three interceptions on the season.
For the Governors, Head Coach Kirby Cannon turns to his third quarterback in three weeks with redshirt freshman Timarious Mitchell getting his first career start against the Skyhawks. Usual starting quarterback Andrew Spivey is dealing with a shoulder injury and Jacob Sexton struggled last weekend letting Mitchell play the majority of the game. Mitchell has appeared in five games this season rushing for 17 yards and throwing for 125 yards on 16 completions.
Keys to Victory: Running the ball
Both of these teams like to play low scoring, long possession games making the ground game important. UTM has the OVC’s leading rusher in D.J. McNeil who is averaging 104 yards per game on the ground with three touchdowns. Peay’s senior running back Tim Phillips has seen his yards increase the last few weeks erupting for a season high 123 yards. The Skyhawks ground defense was strong last weekend against Tennessee State but has shown they are vulnerable in certain games.
#2 Eastern Illinois at #21 Tennessee State (4 p.m. CDT)
TV: As mentioned in the introduction this is game we have been waiting for. Last season we wondered if both teams had finished with one loss in conference play who was the better team and now we get it. The showdown between the conference’s two undefeated teams.
Unlike most games where we have a key to victory we are going to break down this game bit by bit.
Eastern Illinois Offense
The Panthers offense thrives under Head Coach Dino Babers who has brought the program to highs not seen since Tony Romo was winning the Walter Payton Award. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has been getting a lot of draft buzz and can raise his draft stock and hush all doubters with a solid performance against the FCS’s second best defense.
The Panthers offense is deadly not only because of the quarterback play, but all the weapons Garoppolo is surrounded by. EIU can stretch out a defense with Keiondre Gober going deep on the outside, down the middle with senior Adam Drake and don’t forget about Erik Lora. Five players have over 20 receptions for the Panthers and four of those average over 10 yards per catch. With so many weapons to toss to, you wonder if taking away just one weapon will be enough.
The newest addition to the EIU offense has been its running game. Running backs Taylor Duncan and Shepard Little have combined for 1200 yards and 12 touchdowns this season, taking advantage of the middle of the field left open by a stretched out defense.
Tennessee State Defense
What makes the Tigers defense so great is the fact that they don’t run plays per say, they stay in a base defense. The Tigers will have to get pressure on Garoppolo and force turnovers, something they have done for 21 straight games. The Tigers don’t just get turnovers, they turn them into points on their own taking back two turnovers for scores last weekend against UT Martin.
The Tigers might be without junior cornerback Stephen Godbolt III who is recovering from an injury and could really add an extra defensive back to line up with the top three weapons for Eastern Illinois. Taking over the production of Godbolt has been DB’s David Van Dyke and Daniel Fitzpatrick who have nine interceptions on the year. Expect Van Dyke to cover Gober and Fitzpatrick to take on Lora.
Tennessee State Offense
The one part that has been a question mark has been the offense of TSU. Freshman quarterback Ronald Butler has been ok in his starts and has been a game manager which is typical for a Rod Reed team. The team is still built around the trenches and the ground game which has stepped with the emergence of running back Tim Broughton who is second in the OVC with 103 yards per game.
When the offense has chosen to throw the ball it has not gone deep, instead focusing on shorter route that allow the athleticism of the wide receivers to take place. The biggest weapon for Butler has been senior tight end A.C. Leonard who hasn’t practice this week due to a groin injury that has plagued him all season. All reports are that Leonard will try and play giving Butler his favorite target.
Eastern Illinois Defense
When you think of EIU you think of the offense but the EIU defense is the second best in the conference holding teams to just 24 points per contest. The team does allow just over 400 yards according to the stats on the year but when you are up as much as the Panthers are you can play back ups. This team loves to create turnovers and sometimes lives on them. Yes they have been vulnerable to big plays but it hasn’t bit them yet.
Speaking of not biting a team yet, there is the Panther special teams. This is where TSU has it’s biggest advantage and it could decide the game. We all know EIU has struggled with PAT’s and FG’s and TSU just last week blocked a field goal and took it for a score. The special teams will be required to play the field position game and set up their defenses. TSU kicker Jamin Godfrey has been just as good as last season, leading the conference with 13 made field goals.
EIU/ TSU Recap
Overall it will be a great game to watch and all players will be needed to win the game. TSU linebacker Nick Thrasher said at the OVC’s Football Media Day that the OVC title went through TSU and that the team has had the homecoming game circled on their calendar. It will be a great game to watch and see which side comes away undefeated in the OVC.