For a conference whose fans so badly want a second team in the FCS playoffs, no indivdual team actually seems to want to take it. And the floor seems to be caving in on a trio of OVC teams.
Here’s what we learned in Week 11:
1) GAMES CAN EASILY GET OUT OF HAND IN CONFERENCE PLAY
Is Jacksonville State really 58 points better than Eastern Kentucky? Is Tennessee Tech 25 points better than Southeast Missouri? That’s what Saturday’s scores would suggest, but I hardly think that’s really the case. Once fumbleitis hit EKU quarterback Jared McClain, he couldn’t stop putting the ball on the ground. Momentum absolutely has a bit impact on college football games, and this weekend was pretty solid proof of it.
2) JACKSONVILLE STATE HAS BEEN THERE ALL ALONG
The Gamecocks went undefeated in non-conference play against a schedule that’s turned out to be tougher than it looked at the time. JSU narrowly lost in overtime on a two-point conversion to a Murray State team when the Racers offense was on a hot streak, and to a very good Tennessee State team. The fact that the media (myself included) haven’t had Jacksonville State really in the discussion with Tennessee State or Eastern Kentucky is a huge oversight on all of our parts, especially given that the Gamecocks keep winning despite numerous injuries at key positions.
2A) YOU SAID THE SAME THING ABOUT EASTERN KENTUCKY LAST WEEK.
You noticed that, did you.
3) MAX SHORTELL MAKES THE RUNNING GAME BETTER
A little bit more love for Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks rushing attack stole the show on offense against EKU, but what was remarkable was how well the team ran the ball. When you have a quarterback who can stretch the field, which Shortell did throwing for 190 yards on just 20 attempts, it opens up the offense to the run. It even helps when you switch quarterbacks to Eli Jenkins, who had a monster game with his feet.
This is what I’ve been saying about teams like EKU, Tennessee Tech, and SEMO. Having a good running game is great. But your running game can take that extra step when you have a player in the backfield that can make a team pay for stacking the box.
4) EASTERN ILLINOIS IS SO DOMINANT, IT’S ALMOST BECOME BORING
In fact, we may be past the “almost” stage. The consistency of this team is amazing. Their “letdown” week, if this even qualifies, was a win over Southeast Missouri in which they put up 55 points. It’s great that the Panthers aren’t complacent, and it’s why I’m not worried that might struggle once the competition ramps up in the FCS playoffs. They seem focused, and they still have solid games against playoff hungry Jacksonville State and UT Martin to wrap up the season.
5) MURRAY STATE SHOULD GO BACK TO, AND STICK WITH WITH MAIKHAIL MILLER
Parks Frazier got the start for the Racers against Eastern Illinois, and stats wise didn’t have a bad day, going 32-50 with two touchdowns (after the game was well out of hand) and two interceptions. But he’s not really playing markedly better than Miller, and Miller has one more year of eligibility than Frazier. Miller has struggled, but I find it hard to place the Racers recent struggles on his back when the defense is still struggling so much. The Racers are out of the hunt this year, and need to look ahead to what’s best long-term. I think that’s giving the ball back to Miller, and allowing him to continue to develop.
6) RONALD BUTLER IS REMARKABLY CONSISTENT FOR A FRESHMAN
Seriously, he’s a freshman who has started the entire season for Tennessee State and played well. He’s still working on downfield throws, but he makes passes and doesn’t turn over the ball. I still feel like German, when healthy, is a better option overall, but I feel Butler has the talent and vision to have a really bright future under center for Tennessee State.
7) THE FUMBLES AREN’T QUARTERBACK JARED MCCLAIN’S ONLY CONCERNS
Even if you take those out, the EKU quarterback was just 4-15 passing with an interception before leaving the game. Those numbers aren’t going to win any games, and bring us back to the concern we’ve had with the Colonels all season: who is going to stretch the field, and allow your power running game to really shine? EKU passed for just 102 yards, and averaged 1.9 yards a rush in the lopsided loss to the Gamecocks. Those two numbers are related.
8) DARIAN STONE COULD BE REALLY GOOD BY HIS SENIOR YEAR
Stone is just one of a crop of really talented young quarterbacks in the OVC this season. Much like Butler, Stone holds onto the ball, and can make great plays with his feet. If he can start making more plays downfield, Stone could easily become one of the better dual-threat quarterbacks in the league. He still needs some more help around him, but the Golden Eagles have to be encouraged by his play as of late.
9) THE FACT THAT SOUTHEAST MISSOURI CAN’T DEFEND AGAINST A RUNNING QUARTERBACK IS MINDBOGGLING
Normally, defenses that struggle against a running quarterback do so in part because they’re not used to playing against one. But SEMO has a running quarterback that they use quite often. They should know what a guy like Darian Stone can do to their defense becuase they can see it in practice. Stone has shown an ability to make plays with his feet, and that he struggles to do so with his arm, all year. Scott Lathop, your own quarterback, is the same way.
10) AUSTIN PEAY…
I’m out of things to say. 92 yards of offense. 92? Yes, Tennessee State’s defense, when playing teams not named Eastern Kentucky, is really good. But there’s just nothing else left to say about this team, good or bad. They’re just, there.