Head football coach Watson Brown is poised to begin his 8th season at the helm of the Golden Eagles this fall, following a disappointing 5-7 campaign in 2013. He has high expectations for this year’s incoming recruiting class, and high hope for the 49 returning lettermen from last year’s team.
Coach Brown expects that this year his football team could really make strides towards the future of the program with this recruiting class that he brought in. “We’ve been recruiting to build three to four good football teams in the coming years here at Tennessee Tech,” Brown said, adding that this year’s team reminds him a lot of the 2011 OVC Championship team as far as talent and willingness to work are concerned.
The Golden Eagles have a dual-threat quarterback in returning senior quarterback Darian Stone. Stone tallied 1,008 passing yards, four touchdowns and a team-high 523 rushing yards for the Golden Eagles in an injury-filled year. Stone’s backup, Jared Davis, also returns as a sophomore with 935 passing yards and 9 touchdowns his freshman year. Both will get game reps as Stone will play the new touted “QW” position that is a hybrid of quarterback and wide receiver that will play to his dual-threat strength on the wing.
Stone also won’t have to put the team on his cleats as much with the addition of a USF transfer, junior running back Willie Davis. Davis is a 5’9 running back that tallied 142 yards on 39 carries, averaging 3.6 yards per carry. Davis can augment Stone’s running ability and the quickness of junior running back Ladarius Vanlier. Davis will add an immediate bite to the Golden Eagle rushing attack, thanks to him transferring to the FCS, Davis will immediately be eligible and has two years of eligibility left.
No good offense is potent without a decent receiving corps, the Golden Eagles get just that in Cody Matthews, who last year had plenty of highlight reel catches, and Matthews is a favorite target for Stone as is lightning-quick running back Ladarius Vanlier on end-arounds.
Defense: Grade: B-
The Golden Eagles return two HUGE defensive workhorses in senior linebacker Tra’Darius Goff as well as senior defensive back Marty Jones. Goff had 101 tackles last season, a team-high, as well as 8.5 tackles-for-loss, 3.0 sacks, three forced fumbles and two fumble recoveries. Jones contributed to the defensive effort of the team with 98 stops, 5.0 tackles-for-loss, two interceptions, three pass breakups, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries.
The rest of the defense is a mixture of experience and youth, along with some recruits that Tech competed with FBS MAC and Sun Belt schools to get. This combination makes for a good recipe because experienced players such as Goff and Jones act as mentors and guides for the younger, less-experienced defensive players.
Special Teams: Grade: B-
The Golden Eagles return running back and special teams return specialist Ladarius Vanlier. Vanlier has explosive speed and has moves that make coverage teams miss. One instance last year, the season-opener against Cumberland University, Vanlier had a punt bouncing back toward the five yard-line that he seemingly could do nothing with; he turned up the field, danced around and sped his way 93 yards for a touchdown. Vanlier can add a much needed explosive touch to the Golden Eagles return game.
The following players are impact players for the Golden Eagles, they need to perform if this team has any chance of fulfilling the reports of how talented they are.
Darian Stone: Stone is the Golden Eagles dual-threat QB and returning starter, his arm and quickness will be paramount to the Golden Eagles success.
Cody Matthews: Matthews is one talented receiver, there’s no other way to put it, the guy can make a catch in a broom closet and still squeeze a few yards out of it. His hands are a big part of the TTU offense
Willie Davis/Ladarius Vanlier: These two are combined because if they are used the way I think they will be used, they will augment each other. Davis as the bull-style short yardage running back, and Vanlier as the explosive running back. If these two are used the right way, they could really pound the rock on defenses.
Jared Davis: I include Jared Davis because of the new QW position Coach Brown is going to use Darian Stone at, plays where Stone lines up as a receiver and not under center are the plays where the sophomore Davis has to step up and execute.
Tra’Darius Goff: Goff needs to step up and not only be a freak of nature on the defensive part of the field, he also needs to be one of those guys who’s a locker room leader, being the elder statesman at linebacker should give him that role. Goff needs to put up numbers like last year, but just a little more in each category, if he can give his numbers that extra amount, he can really be a tide-turner.
Marty Jones: Jones is in the same position as Goff, freak of nature on the field, needs to augment Goff as a leader off the field and in the locker room.
Chris Harris: The Golden Eagles kicker/punter will be called upon many times this season, he needs to prove the old adage “Never trust a kicker” wrong.
Ladarius Vanlier: I know I referenced him as an offensive playmaker, but this guy can really leave a mark on coverage teams with his speed in special teams. He just needs to remember the one thing that most college return men forget, sometimes it’s necessary to use your speed and run forward instead of trying to get fancy.
This team will have a great year if…:
They can get better production out of their offense, that’s one facet that needs to be improved from last year. Tech will also need Darian Stone and the rest of their offensive playmakers to step up and contribute. The potentially lethal combo of Vanlier/Willie Davis in the backfield can make nightmares for defenses, and a solid air attack from Stone and Davis under center could keep defenses guessing. One thing that’s improved from last year, this offense has a ton of versatility.
This team could struggle if…:
The offense doesn’t produce, plain and simple. Offensive underachieving had been TTU’s plague the past few years; the defense can’t always hold them. You don’t want to put your defense in “bend but don’t break” situation for multiple games a season, that’s a recipe for disaster. TTU has, from what I can analyze, one of the deepest pools of offensive talent in the conference; they’d be wise to take full advantage of it.
This year’s Golden Eagle squad opens with a tune-up game in Cookeville at Tucker Stadium against NAIA school the Kentucky Christian University Knights, out of Grayson, Kentucky. The first game is the Running of The Freshmen at TTU, so TTU will be looking to come out and get a resounding win in front of the home crowd and new students.