The rematch is on between the conference’s best defense in Tennessee State and the nation’s best offense in Eastern Illinois. Yes these two teams have battled before, but things have changed in the six weeks since they last met up. The conference’s short two-game winning streak is going to come to an end, but the OVC is guaranteed at spot in the quarterfinals. A position the conference hasn’t been in since Western Kentucky in 2000.
EIU at TSU Part I
In case you forgot about the original matchup between these two, here is a quick refresher. The Panthers faced their first test on the road in conference at the end of October, heading to LP Field to take on the Tigers. The Panthers used the deep ball early and often to jump out to an early 21-3 lead at the half. With the Tigers struggling to get a passing attack with freshman quarterback Ronald Butler at the helm, the Panthers defense stuffed the Tigers ground game and cruised. Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo didn’t have his best game completion wise, going 24 of 41, but threw for over 400 yards and four touchdowns. To add to the misery for the Tigers’ homecoming crowd, running back Shepard Little ran for 138 yards on 22 carries in the Panthers 34-10 victory.
Part II- The Preview
Normally I don’t open a preview with a weather report but it has to be mentioned. The game time temperature is projected to be in the twenties with wind gusts up to 20 mph. Both head coach’s during this week’s teleconference had concern’s about the weather.
“Unless these guys are totally wrong it is going to feel like between 22 and 28 and I will be bundled up like the Michelin man,” Eastern Illinois Head Coach Dino Babers said. “We have about 20 guys from Florida so you tell me how it is going to affect us, but if you are going to win a national championship you have to win in cold weather,” Head Coach Rod Reed said.
What makes things different from the last time these two played is seen on offense for the Tigers. The last time Eastern Illinois took on TSU, they knew Butler wasn’t going to stretch the field and loaded up the box to stop the run. The result was 126 yards on 32 carries by TSU.
Last weekend, Pioneer League champions Butler did that same thing but there was a different quarterback. The return of junior quarterback Michael German is a huge boost to the TSU offense and EIU knows that. The ground game was ok against the Bulldogs but German’s ability to create the big play or extend plays with his 6-2 215 pound body made the difference. “I think they are a different football team than what we faced the first time,” Babers said.
On the other side of the field, we all know about the Eastern Illinois offense. The passing attack of Walter Payton Finalist Garoppolo with his weapons of Erik Lora, Adam Drake, Jeff LePak and the possible return of Keiondre Gober who has missed the last three games with an injury. While the passing attack won’t be shut down, in the cold weather it could be the ground game of Little that could be the x-factor for the Panther’s offense. The Panthers will need to shake off the rust(I’m going to say ice) after not playing last week. The Tigers should be well rested as the majority of the starters were done halfway through the third quarter.
In the history of the OVC, only twice has there been a rematch in the FCS Playoffs. In both instances, the winner of the first game was able to pull off the second victory. Babers mentioned over and over in the press conference that it is not the best circumstances to play a team twice. The Tigers have the revenge factor on their minds, the Panthers are the No. 2 seed in the playoffs. Regardless, this weekend’s game should be another classic and guarantees us another week writing football.