UT Martin begins its season looking to do what it has never done in program history – beat an SEC opponent, as the Skyhawks take on Kentucky at 11 a.m. Saturday.
Beginning his ninth year as UT Martin’s head coach, Jason Simpson is 0-3 against SEC teams – the only three games the Skyhawks have played against that conference.
A question familiar with several Ohio Valley Conference teams is who will play quarterback? It’s not different for the Skyhawks, as they head into Lexington, Ky.
Red-shirt senior Jarod Neal and red-shirt junior Dylan Favre enter the year with seemingly the same fate they had last year.
Both quarterbacks played significant time, with Neal starting seven games and Favre starting the other five. Neal played in all 12 games, while Favre appeared in nine.
It looks like it will be more of the same this year, starting with Saturday’s season opener.
On Monday, Simpson said neither quarterback had separated themselves from each other in the quarterback battle.
“I mean that in a positive way,” Simpson said at his press conference. “Neither one of them have gone out there and had a bad day or two bad days and the other bypass them. I look at that as a positive. It’s starter 1A and starter 1A. That’s the way we look at it.”
Neal passed for 1,529 yards and threw nine touchdowns, while completing 128-of-223 passes (57.4 percent) last season. He also had three rushing touchdowns. Meanwhile, Favre also threw nine touchdown passes a season ago.
Favre had the third highest rushing attempts as well, ending the year with 191 yards on 79 rushes. He scored one rushing touchdown, while passing for 1,081 yards. He had a 71.1 completion percentage (101-of-142).
The starter against Kentucky will be?
“It’s going to be a game-time decision as we go,” Simpson said. “It will be more of a gut feeling than showing who completed more passes at practice or things like that. They’re both quality OVC players.”
As of Monday, Simpson kept his word and did not say who would start.
“We’ll practice tonight and the next three days and it all plays into it,” he said. “The meetings, how the guys rally around you. It’s an ongoing evaluation.”
On the other sideline, Kentucky head coach Mark Stoops kicks off the year with a set starter at quarterback in sophomore Patrick Towles. The second-year head coach with the Wildcats, made the decision just last Monday.
Towles was red-shirted last year after playing in five games his freshman season.
Last year, Eastern Illinois quarterback Jalen Whitlow made 10 starts for the Wildcats.
The Skyhawks have won their last two season openers, including a 20-17 win over FBS opponent Memphis on Sept. 1, 2012. Last season, UT-Martin defeated Chattanooga, which was ranked No. 24 in the FCS by a score of 31-21. Both wins came on the road.
Simpson is looking forward to play at Commonwealth Stadium.
“Anytime our guys can go play in a hostile environment and feel the pageantry of college football that’s why you put in all the time and effort into it,” Simpson said. “They deserve the opportunity, so we’re looking forward to it.”
UT Martin returns 10 starters from last year’s 7-5 team that finished 5-3 in the OVC. There will be five new starters on offense and seven new starters on defense for the Skyhawks.
Meanwhile, Kentucky returns 15 primary starters from its team last year that ended the year 2-10 and 0-8 in the SEC in Stoops first year.
Kickoff is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky., as both teams meet for the first time.