1. JACKSONVILLE STATE, EKU MAKING EARLY CASE FOR AN AT-LARGE FCS PLAYOFF BID
If the magic number to make the FCS playoffs is nine, then Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky are on pace. But even if they’re on the line come December, they both picked up fantastic road wins this week, with the Gamecocks beating ranked Chattanooga in overtime and EKU beating FBS opponent Miami (OH). Those are resume wins, and with only four non-conference games to make a major statement, those kind of wins are extremely noteworthy when it comes to selecting the field.
With the playoffs expanded to 24 teams, two teams from the OVC each year should almost be a given. These are your early frontrunners.
2. THE REST OF THE LEAGUE NEEDS TO SHOOT FOR AN OVC TITLE
To get from 0-2 to nine wins means going 9-1 down the stretch, which means, at worst, 7-1 in conference play, which will likely be good enough to win the conference crown, and the auto-bid that goes with it. Eight wins, which puts you on the bubble, isn’t a whole lot easier — especially for teams still with an FBS opponent to play. EIU and UT Martin both had opportunities to make a statement with wins, and while the Skyhawks played closer than many thought, both ended up in the loss column. Tennessee State’s loss is especially hard to swallow — sure, they were on the road, but that was a game they were expected to win, and simply couldn’t get their offense going. The plus for them — they already have a win.
While we’re not discounting the rest of the league, we’ve yet to see anything from Murray State or Tennessee Tech to give us reason to believe they’re in the hunt. SEMO played well late against Kansas, but it goes down as a loss in the record book all the same.
2A. WHAT ABOUT THE GOVERNORS? AUSTIN PEAY DIDN’T LOSE THIS WEEK.
Well, that’s what happens when you’re on a bye. Once Austin Peay gets into the win column, we’ll consider adding them to the playoff discussion.
3. SOUTHEAST MISSOURI APPEARS GREATLY IMPROVED
I know Kansas is the joke of the Big 12, but they’re still and FBS opponent, and the Redhawks clawed back to a six-point loss to the Jayhawks, posting 28 points in a tough losing effort. I’m fairly certain if this game was played in Week 2 last season, the result would have been much different — in Kansas’ favor. Kyle Snyder didn’t have a high percentage, but threw for 269 yards, on 12 completions. If you can stretch the field, you can give your run game a chance, which was a problem for the Redhawks offense last season.
We still need to see SEMO against an even-strength opponent, but things are looking up in Cape.
4. LET’S END THE QUARTERBACK BATTLE IN MARTIN
Yes, UT Martin lost on the road to a solid Central Arkansas team, but Jarod Neal was solid, if not spectacular. Neal hit 20-28 passes, throwing for 276 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to the Bears. He threw an interception on a desperation pass with :11 remaining, so while it goes in the stat sheet, it’s not really all that noteworthy. The one concern — he couldn’t move the Skyhawks down the field in the second half, as UT Martin couldn’t hang on to a 21-7 halftime lead. It’s hard to hang the loss on Neal, especially given that UTM only got five second-half possession, including the final one with just over one minute to drive the field. That’s because the defense allowed UCA three-consecutive 12+ play second-half drives, as the Bears scored on four straight possessions.
5. WE NEED TO BE DONE WITH THE QUARTERBACK WING
TTU lost 49-14. Okay, that on it’s own, while bad, isn’t damning in and of itself. Quarterback Jared Davis hitting just 14 of 36 passes for 98 yards? That is. Darian Stone, the wing in the QB wing system, isn’t throwing passes, which makes him a running back or wide receiver in reality, a position he’s not exactly lighting on fire. Stone had eight rushes for 37 yards, and eight receptions for 57 yards. It’s been a neat experiment. It’s time to move on…
6. TSU NEED QUARTERBACK HELP
What has happened to Michael German. Going into last season, he was considered a potential break-out, before off the field trouble sidelined German for the start of the year, and relegated him to a backup role for the rest. He got the start Saturday against Alabama State, and he was not on target. German completed just 26 of 61 passes, and while he did throw for 340 yards and two touchdowns, he also threw three interceptions. It should be noted — he had to throw the ball after TSU dug a 24-2 hole in the third quarter, which is part of the reason for the high attempts total. But to win in the OVC, you’re going to have to be able to throw the ball. And the senior German may not be the answer at that position.
If the Tigers are forced to stay with German, the Tigers may be forced to lean on the run game more, which means they can’t fall behind early like they did over the weekend.
7. SHEPPARD LITTLE IS STILL UNDER 100 YARDS FOR THE SEASON
Through two games, the preseason all-OVC selection has 92 yards rushing. EIU quarterback Jalen Whitlow has 137. Little is averaging 4.8 yards per rush, a solid number, and Eastern Illinois has played two good teams in FBS Minnesota and ranked Southern Illinois. But we weren’t expecting Little to be an average OVC back — we’re expecting elite, and he hasn’t been that through two games. Part of the reason — EIU isn’t handing off the football to him. He’s had just 19 rushes on the year, and just seven catches out of the backfield. If you’re EIU’s offensive coordinator, you’ve got to find a way to get one of your top playmakers more involved in the offense.
8. WE SHOULD IGNORE MOSTLY EVERYTHING ABOUT MURRAY STATE’S LOPSIDED LOSS
Murray State was down 49-7 at the half. But at least they scored a touchdown, right? They did, on a big passing play in a coverage breakdown. The other first half drives: five three-and-outs, an interception, and a turnover on downs. The two 4th quarter touchdowns were against 2nd and 3rd string defenders, and Louisville burned Murray State’s secondary with big plays.
None of that really matters — much like the Racers game against Union, there’s little to really take away from this loss from a fan’s point of view. The defense still worries me, I still think the offense is going to put up points. But through two weeks, there’s little we really know about how the Racers will fair against even competition. They have another FBS opponents next…but it’s Western Michigan, a lower-level FBS team. Through two weeks, Murray is still the biggest enigma in the OVC
9. YEAH, THIS IS SHAPING UP TO BE THE YEAR OF THE DEFENSE
If you ignore most of FCS vs FBS games, or the games against lower division teams — well, you’re not left with many games through two weeks. But the ones that have been played so far were much more defensive struggles than offensive shootouts. You look at JSU’s win over Chattanooga, both of EKU’s games — neither team is putting up 40 or 50 points a game. UT Martin only puts up 24 at UCA, SEMO with 28 against Kansas. (Which is essentially an FBS defense) It’s rare that all the talk in the preseason amounts to anything, but the predictions that the league’s defenses would rise to meet the offenses — or more likely, the offenses fall to the level of the defenses — appears to be coming true.
10. ANOTHER BATTLE AGAINST SIU IS THE BEST OF THE WEEK AHEAD
Southeast Missouri heads to Southern Illinois in a game that will draw direct comparisons to EIU’s performance last week. As we mentioned above, the Redhawks looks much improved, and if they can battle or even beat the ranked Saluki’s, we may need to add a team to the mix in the OVC battle.
Other games worth a look:
Jackson State vs Tennessee State: The Tigers head to Memphis, and need to have almost any hope of getting a playoff at-large.
Eastern Illinois at Illinois State: Can the defending OVC champs really start the season 0-3? They need a win on the road against a sub .500 team from a year ago.