Two weeks are all that remain in OVC football and what at fun trip it has been. Well it hasn’t been the eventful trip many hoped it would be, what we expected at the beginning has shown. This weekend we could see the OVC Championship Trophy and automatic bid to the FCS playoffs handed right back to the team that claimed it last year. While the trophy is being handed out, one team’s regular season and potentially season is coming to an end.
Jacksonville State at Eastern Illinois (12:00 p.m. CDT)
ZW: One of two games featured on ESPN 3 this week is the Top 25 matchup of #2 EIU and #22 Jax State. The Gamecocks are traveling to Charleston after a decisive win against Eastern Kentucky, but EIU has won decisively all year. The game will likely be a high-scoring affair with both teams in the Top 20 in scoring, but can the Gamecocks keep up with the seemingly invincible Panthers? Not likely.
A win for EIU on Saturday will clinch the OVC title. To say the Panthers have the advantage on offense is an understatement. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo is the best QB in Division 1 statistically, running backs Shephard Little and Taylor Duncan are marching to 1,000 yard seasons, and Erik Lora is the best receiver in conference history. All EIU has to do is get one stop on defense to win the game.
For Coach Bill Clark and Jacksonville State, the stakes could not be higher. If the Gamecocks pull a miraculous upset, they have a chance to win a share of the OVC title and a playoff bid. With Max Shortell back at the helm, the offense can maintain balance to keep EIU guessing. The real question is if the defense can stop the best offense in the country. Jacksonville State is 2nd in the OVC in pass defense efficiency, but they have not faced a team like this.
UT Martin at Eastern Kentucky (12:00 p.m. EDT)
TV: Last week we proclaimed the Colonels with the inside track for a potential FCS at-large bid, boy how things change in a week. The Colonels are now playing out the season with a 6-4 record. The Skyhawks on the other hand have been what we expected. A good defense with offensive weapons but inconsistent play at the quarterback position has grounded the Skyhawks, literally.
Both teams have quarterbacks that have won and lost games for their teams. With identical records, these teams are identical in many ways. First the defenses that were hinted at earlier. Both allowed 25 points per game, rush defense tilts to the Colonels while pass defense favors UT Martin. Nothing would surprise me if this game was the closest game of the weekend. Also I wouldn’t be surprised if the game was over early. It all comes down to the signal callers.
EKU quarterback Jared McClain in his team’s losses has completed just 45% of his passes and thrown for three touchdowns and four interceptions. UT Martin has been a split decision at the spot all year with Dylan Favre and Jarod Neal. In the losses this year the quarterbacks have averaged 234 yards through the air but the backup has been just tossing it around to try and make a comeback.
This game comes down to which defense can shut down their opponents ground game. The Colonels run for almost 200 yards per game, UTM just behind at 188 yards. Stop the run and make the quarterback have to beat you is what will happen. Which quarterback can get it done? Tune in Saturday.
Southeast Missouri at Austin Peay (1:00 p.m. CDT)
ZW: The Governors will host SEMO this weekend, hoping to get one final win prior to renovating the historic Governors Stadium. Austin Peay is yet to win a game but has their best shot against the Redhawks, who are on a three game OVC losing streak. Looking at the numbers, both teams a remarkably similar.
Austin Peay has surprisingly improved on the offensive side of the ball against some of the toughest competition on their schedule. Combine this improvement with Southeast Missouri’s defensive struggles, and Austin Peay could have their best offensive outing of the season. On defense, they will need to stop the running game by focusing on containing quarterback Scott Lathrop.
SEMO comes in as the favorite to win this game, but it will be a tough fight with Austin Peay playing in front of the home crowd. The Redhawks have had a rough few weeks, most notably a last minute win against D-II Urbana. Safety Ben Kargbo will need to rally the team and give the offense a chance to win the game.
Murray State at Tennessee State (2:00 p.m. CDT)
TV: The end of the road for Tennessee State at least for the regular season. The Tigers are at the end of a 12 week marathon. Coming in at 8-3 the Tigers should be the favorites in this game especially with how Murray State has played of late but the Racers do own this series as of late. The Racers have won the last five but come having lost three of their last four games.
Tennessee State and Murray State rely on one side of the ball to win games for them and we all know which side. For Big Blue it is the rough and tough defense, for the Racers it’s the Hatch Attack offense that hasn’t really hatched this season.
In the team victories, Tennessee State has allowed just 12.5 points per game, in the Racer wins they have scored 35.5 (not counting the Campbellsville game). Both rely on their specialties to cover the weaknesses of the other side of the ball.
We have talked all year about the poor Murray State defense and last week’s performance is especially troubling. Allowing over 300 yards to a passing team in EIU doesn’t give much confidence when you are taking on a team that pounds the ball. Tennessee State’s offense has relied on the ground game as quarterback Ronald Butler has been a game manager doing enough to get the victory.
Racers Head Coach Chris Hatcher made the change last weekend going with Parks Frazier. This weekend the depth chart says Frazier or former starting quarterback Maikhail Miller. In this matchup, do you go with the passing quarterback or the mobile one that could make moves when the TSU defense shuts down the passing game. The passing game is going to be down for the Racers as wide receiver Walter Powell is out for the season with a right foot injury.