The first of three OVC teams to take the field Saturday is Tennessee State who will be looking to end the conference’s losing streak that dates back to 2000 when then OVC member Western Kentucky defeated Florida A&M. Standing in the Tigers way is March’s favorite Cinderella, Butler. Whichever team pulls over the victory gets to take on some teamed called Eastern Illinois. (Take a guess which matchup we at OVCBall would like to see)
Tigers Season Recap
Speaking of streaks that are trying to come to an end, when the Tigers take the field at the Butler Bowl it will be the Tigers’ first playoff appearance since 1999. The Tigers are coming off an impressive nine win season, last time that happen it was 1999.
At the beginning of the season two questions were asked. Could the defense carry the team and how would playing 12 straight games affect the team. The Tigers opened the season with a narrow 12-9 loss to Bethune-Cookman and it seemed the offense led by freshman quarterback Ronald Butler just wasn’t ready to go. The Tigers were a running team as they had been in the past with the emergence of power running back Tim Broughton to go along the speedy Telvin Hooks the offense lived on the ground attack for much of the season.
The offense got a much needed jumpstart when redshirt junior quarterback Michael German rejoined the team. In his five games this season German completed 58 percent of his passes but threw for 725 yards and 11 touchdowns. The problem was keeping German on the field and his last appearance was against Jacksonville State on Oct. 12. Head Coach Rod Reed says German has been cleared to play and that both quarterbacks will play against Butler. Also returning according to Reed is lineman Kadeem Edwards who is an All-OVC talent when healthy.
With the offense struggling without German, the defense was called upon to get the victories and in the team’s nine victories they did just that allowing just 12.5 points in Tiger victories. Linebacker Nick Thrasher leads the team with 94 tackles on the season and OVC Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Bass leads the defensive line with a team-high 10 sacks. In the secondary, DB’s Daniel Fitzpatrick and David Van Dyke combine for 10 interceptions and 21 deflections.
Meet the Bulldogs
Butler makes it’s first Division I Playoff appearance in just its 20th season as a Division I Program. Now this is misleading as the Bulldogs compete in the Pioneer League which just gained an automatic bid to the FCS Playoffs. The road for the PLF champions was an interesting one to say the least.
Butler earned the honor by sharing the 2013 PFL championship with Marist and then being selected to represent the conference through the league’s tie-breaker system. The two teams remained tied through each of the PFL’s tie-breaker steps until the final rankings tie-breaker, which uses the seven rankings/ratings of the College Sporting News’ Gridiron Power Index and the NCAA’s Simple Rating System (SRS). The Bulldogs prevailed in five of the ranking systems to earn the PFL’s first automatic bid to the Division I football playoffs.
The Bulldogs offense is a balanced attack led by senior quarterback Matt Lancaster who averaged 240 passing yards per game. Lancaster is an Illinois State transfer and in his second season with the program. He threw for 2,639 yards on 342 attempts and tossed 19 touchdowns to just six interceptions. Lancaster isn’t only lethal through the air, as he used his legs for 678 yards and 12 touchdowns.
On the ground the Bulldogs lean on senior Trae Heeter, who rushed for 1,311 yards on the season for an 5.4 yards per carry on the season. Heeter added 13 scores and was third on the team in receptions with 32.
On the outside, Lancaster’s favorite target is Brendan Shannon who led the PFL with 71 receptions and was third with 978 yards.
While the Bulldogs ranked just fourth in scoring offense in the PFL, they are hot as of late with 1400 yards and 130 points in their final two games to clinch a share of the championship.
While the Bulldogs’ defense ranked sixth in total defense and scoring defense (26.5 ppg) it is an opportunistic defense with 30 takeaways on the year.
Led by junior defensive back David Burke, who leads the team with 67 tackles, the Bulldog defense has done will to shut down their opponent’s run game allowing just 116 yards per game on the ground. The key defensive player to watch out for is senior DB Sean Grady who has 4 interceptions on the year.
If there is a weakness on the Bulldogs’ defense it would be the air. Butler allowed over 300 yards per game through the air this season, last in the PFL. Much like the New Orleans Saints during their Super Bowl run in 2009, the Bulldogs live and die by the takeaway,
Key to the Game: Passing attack of Tennessee State
As I just mentioned Butler(the team) can be beaten through the air. Luckily German is coming back for TSU fans and we should see the team’s passing attack come back to life. No offense to Butler (the TSU quarterback) but the Tigers can’t live and die on the ground game and then throw for five to seven yards. German spreads the ball out and stretches defenses.
The Tigers have yet to lose in game that German has played in this season, and could play a huge part in the ground game. Butler has prepared for the TSU ground game, that’s what the film suggests the Tigers will do. While I expect that to happen as well, seeing No. 12 trot on the field could make the linebackers hesitate.
If the Tigers can’t throw the ball and have to lean on the defense once again, you wonder if the TSU defense can pull out the victory. Yes they are capable of shutting down good offenses but they need takeaways and short field for the offense to do well.