One day is down in the football season — and it was a bit of a rough start for the OVC — as Jacksonville State was the only team to come out with wins, and there has to be some “what could have been” for the Skyhawks, as UC gifted them every opportunity early.
Here’s five things we learned from opening night.
1. Jaimiee Bowe is a name you need to learn
The UT Martin running back ran for 102 yards on 18 attempts (5.7 yards per attempt) in the Skyhawks 28-7 loss to Cincinnati, including some hard runs up the middle of the Bearcats defense. Bowe, a sophomore, became just the fourth Skyhawk to run for 100 or more yards against an FBS foe, the first since 2013. He’s listed at 5’11 — 210 pounds, and that frame proved very tough to get down. The downside — UTM couldn’t get the running game going on their numerous first-half red zone opportunities, due heavily to an ineffective passing game.
[Bowe] became just the fourth Skyhawk to run for 100 or more yards against an FBS foe
2. UTM will be going for it a lot on fourth down…
Speaking of those red zone trips…the Skyhawks missed two relatively easy field goal attempts to extend an early 7-0 lead. Junior Mitch Mersman missed from 37 and 31 — both kicks from the hashes. They went for it on a long fourth down attempt in the third quarter — and that may be something we see more of. They’ll undoubtedly give Mersman more chances, but if he misses one early in a future game — does Jason Simpson really trot him back out there after what happened in Cincy?
3. Roc Thomas is stoppable…maybe?
We were expecting a lot out of the Auburn transfer running back when he joined Jacksonville State — but his opening week was…mixed, which feels weird saying when you see he scored three touchdowns. But outside those short red zone runs, Thomas netted just 71 yards on 20 rushes (3.5 yards per attempts) — being out run by QB Eli Jenkins and fellow rusher Tyus Flakes. He did lead the team with four receptions and 53 receiving yards — so he was still a pretty good overall threat. But the rushing numbers alone were…interesting.
3a. Eli Jenkins (pictured at top) is still pretty good, though
20-34, 230 yards through the air, and another 101 yards on the ground. That’ll do.
4. The offensive line is a work in progress in Cookeville
…and that’s probably being kind. Marshall transfer quarterback Michael Birdsong had a solid enough outing in his first game in purple and gold, hitting 22-34 passes for 216 yards. But the line struggled to keep him upright, giving up five sacks against Wofford, and the rushing game was pretty woeful, only netting 64 yards if you take away Birdsong’s -23 yards due mostly to sacks.
5. You (still) cannot turnover the ball inside your 20 and win
Eastern Illinois outgained Western Illinois by more than 120 yards. The quarterbacks were sensational, throwing for 366 yards, and the defense kept Western Illinois below 50% passing on the night.
…and they lost. Solidly lost.
The Panthers lost by 17 after digging a massive first-half deficit thanks to two massive turnovers. Up 7-0, a fumble put WIU in business in the Red Zone, which the Leathernecks turned into their first touchdown of the game. In the second quarter, Syracuse transfer Mitch Kimble threw his only pick of the game, setting up Western Illinois inside the EIU 20 yet again. They turned it into a touchdown to make it a two-score game…then recovered an onside kick in the closing seconds of the half, which they turned into another momentum-killing field goal.
The quarterbacks were sensational…and they lost.
The Panthers lost the turnover battle 3-0, and lost a game that could have helped EIU build an at-large FCS playoff resume, if they find themselves needing that.