College Sports Journal OVC Preview, Week of 3/28/2021

A full Sunday of OVC action is going on today.

TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d), Radio: Govs Sports Net (APSU), JSU Radio Network (JSU)

Overview: It’s difficult to imagine that so much would be at stake as there is when Austin Peay and Jacksonville State take to the field Sunday in Jacksonville, Ala.

While a win by JSU is important, payback may be just as rewarding.

The Gamecocks had dominated the series against the Govs in recent years. JSU had won 12 straight games in the series dating back to 2007. 

But that all changed the last time the two teams met in Clarksville in 2019. The Govs defeated the Gamecocks and the win seemed to boost APSU as the Govs went on to claim a share of the Ohio Valley Conference championship and advance to the national playoffs.

JSU, meanwhile, seemed unable to get untracked throughout the rest of the season and was left at home come playoff time.

The Gamecocks are looking to remedy that in a big way as they seek to reclaim their customary perch as the elite of the OVC. The answer will be revealed 60 minutes after kickoff at Burgess-Snow Field.

Austin Peay: The Govs have shown some flashes of brilliance during the spring season. But those flashes have not been sustained long enough to put together the wins necessary to put themselves in a position to win a second consecutive conference championship.

A win against the favored Gamecocks on Sunday would make a still doable path a little daunting.

Brian Snead (6-1, 203, RS, So., RB) is the leading rusher for the Govs entering the game on Sunday. He has carried 95 times for 522 yards (5.5 ypc) this season and has scored four touchdowns for an APSU team that is averaging just 138.1 rushing yards per game on the year.

Despite the 2-2 record during the spring portion of the schedule, one bright spot has emerged for Austin Peay in the form of quarterback Draylen Ellis (6-1, 178, Fr.) who has completed 55 of his 114 pass attempts for 832 yards and 11 touchdowns in his first collegiate season.

The Govs also possess two of the top pass catchers in the league and when Ellis and that tandem develop a bit more consistency it could present problems for opposing defenses.

Deangelo Wilson (5-9, 173, Sr., WR) is leading that talented duo of receivers with 24 catches for 402 yards and two touchdowns. His teammate, Baniko Harley (6-1, 221, Sr., WR) is right on Wilson’s heels with 366 yards after hauling in a team-best 26 catches. Wilson and Harley are proven deep threats as their 16.8 and 14.1 yards per catch numbers, respectively, bear out.

The Austin Peay defense continues to be led, as it has been all season, by Jack McDonald (6-0, 206, RS, Jr., LB) who has recorded 56 (30 solo) tackles this season. He also has 9.5 tackles for loss, including 2.5 sacks on the year and one interception.

Terrell Vassel (6-0, 184, RS., Sr., S) ranks second on the team with 37 (22 solo) stops on the year. He has 3.5 TFLs to his credit.

Jacksonville State: The key in any athletic competition is to set the tone early. The Gamecocks, who are on a seven-game winning streak since losing the season opener last fall on the road at Florida State, have become the masters at putting pressure on the opposition.

JSU has scored 85 points in the second quarter in its eight games this season, which is 18 points more than the scoring output by the opposition in the first half. JSU has also outscored its opponents 140-67 in the first half this season.

Zion Webb (6-0, 200, RS, Jr. QB) has stepped in to lead the JSU with great efficiency this season. He has completed 68-of-109 passes for 925 yards and eight touchdowns and has been a great reason why the Gamecocks are averaging 199.5 yards per game through the air.

Oh, they are not too shabby at running the ball either.

Uriah West (6-0, 225, Jr.) and Josh Samuel (5-11, 215, RS, Jr.) have combined for nearly 1,000 yards running the ball out of the backfield this season. West has a slight edge with 486 yards on 94 carries (5.2 ypc) while Samuel has rushed 91 times for 458 yards (5.0 ypc). Both standouts have scored four TDs this season. 

JSU is averaging 186.6 yards rushing through eight games this season.

Webb and the Gamecocks are also benefitting from the presence of two players adept at catching the football.

Dave Russell (6-0, 203, RS, So., WR) has caught 24 passes for 351 yards (14.6 ypc) this season and has scored three times. Talented tight end Trae Berry (6-7, 245, Sr.) has added 20 receptions for 323 yards (16.1 ypc). He returned last week after missing the two previous games with an injury.

Nicario Harper (6-1, 205, RS, So. S) and Marshall Clark (6-0, 210, RS, So., LB) are the leaders on the defensive side of the ball for Gamecocks. Harper leads the team in tackles with 57 (24 solo), which includes 1.5 tackles for loss. He has also picked off two passes on the year. Clark, meanwhile, has 46 (13 solo) tackles, including a team-high five TFLs.

TENNESSEE TECH (1-3 OVC/1-3 All) at SE MISSOURI (1-3 OVC/1-4 All)
TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d). Radio: (Tennessee Tech), Real Rock 99.3 FM (SEMO)

Tennessee Tech: A narrow win in the closing seconds against Austin Peay to open the season appeared to provide Tennessee Tech with some much-needed optimism.

Those good vibes have taken a hit in recent weeks.

Three straight losses, by a combined 30 points, has Tech looking to right the ship … in a hurry.

The Golden Eagles certainly have one of the interesting and unpredictable teams on offense this season. 

The have two players sharing time under center, one of them sitting second on the team chart in rushing. The top Golden Eagle rusher is also leading the team in receptions. 

Bailey Fisher (5-11, 205, Jr.) and Willie Miller (6-0, 178, So.) are near mirror images in production calling the shots for the Golden Eagles. Fisher has completed 37-of-61 passes for 367 yards with one touchdown this season. Miller, meanwhile, has thrown for 334 yards after completing 28-of-49 passes. If not for the three interceptions thrown by Miller, his numbers would likely be even better.

Miller has also rushed 23 times for 122 yards (5.3 ypc) and three touchdowns. His rushing yardage ranks second on the team in that department.

Kurt Taylor (5-10, 205, Jr., RB) leads all rushers on the team with 143 yards on 44 carries (3.2 ypc). His 16 receptions out of the backfield are the most catches on the team and have gone for 80 yards and one touchdown.

Metrius Fleming (6-0, 178, So., WR) and Justin Oden (6-4, 175, So., WR) have both caught 11 passes on the year for 186 and 175 yards, respectively, for the Golden Eagles.

Tech also has one the most active defensive units in the OVC with five players having at least 22 total tackles to their credit this spring.

Linebacker Seth Carlisle (6-0, 225, JR) leads that group with 29 (15 solo) tackles and one interception. Teammate Jack Warwick (6-0, 224, RS, So.), another linebacker, is not far behind with 24 (10 solo) tackles of his own. He also has picked one pass.

Chris Tucker (6-2, 270, Sr., DL) and Jamaal Thompson (5-9, 187, Jr., DB) have both recorded 23 tackles on the season. Tucker, who has 12 solo stops, also leads the team with 5.5 tackles for loss while Thompson has 10 solo tackles to his credit. Josh Reliford (5-10, 200, RS, Jr., DB) also has 10 solo tackles as part of his 22 total stops so far this season.

SE Missouri: After opening the spring season with an impressive 47-7 win over Eastern Illinois things have turned sour for Southeast Missouri over the last three weeks. It has a chance to get even worse if the Redhawks are unable to put things together in a hurry starting on Sunday at home against Tennessee Tech.

SEMO has been snake bitten this spring. The Redhawks have lost two by a combined 10 points, including a 49-42 loss to Austin Peay in double overtime. 

Despite the lackluster record there is talent present on the SEMO roster.

Geno Hess (5-8, 209, RS, So., RB) is the workhorse out of the backfield for the Redhawks. He has rushed 90 times for 401 yards (4.5 ypc) and has scored seven touchdowns this season. He has proven to be one of the top young rushers in the Ohio Valley Conference in his short collegiate career.

SEMO also has three outstanding who have a proven ability to catch the football.

Zach Smith (5-9, 200, RS, Sr., WR) leads the team with 24 receptions and teammate Johnny King (6-4, 180, Jr., WR), a transfer, leads the way with 267 yards on 20 catches. His output is nearly 100 yards better than Smith’s 196 yards. Aaron Alston (6-4, 210, Jr., WR) ranked third on the team with 15 catches for 185 yards. King has scored twice this season while Smith and Alston have yet to find the end zone.

Brandon Mincey (6-0, 242, Jr.) and Mike Matthews (6-1, 236, So.) are proving to be two of the most active linebackers in the OVC this season. Mincey has tallied 30 (15 solo) tackles and Matthews has added 28 (14 solo) tackles of his own. That tandem has also combined for four tackles for loss with Mincey tallying 2.5 of those stops behind the line of scrimmage.

They are not alone though on defense. Five other Redhawks have already recorded at least 24 total tackles heading into Sunday’s contest against the Golden Eagles.

UT MARTIN (2-2 OVC/2-2 All) at TENNESSEE STATE (1-3 OVC/1-3 All)
TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d), Radio: Big Blue Network (Tennessee State)

Tennessee State: Fans may want to get the popcorn early when UT Martin and Tennessee State take the field on Sunday at Hale Stadium. The game has all the makings of being interesting with a lot of big play potential.

Tennessee State has a pair of electrifying receivers in the form of Cam Wyche 6-0, 190, RS, Jr., WR) and Dayron Johnson (5-9, 180, So., WR) who are deep threats each time the ball is thrown in their direction.

Wyche is averaging 20.5 yards each time he catches the ball. He has hauled in 15 passes for 308 yards this season and has turned two of those receptions into touchdowns for the Tigers. Johnson, meanwhile, is averaging 17.2 yards on just 11 catches that have covered 189 yards.

Now, if only quarterback Isaiah Green (6-2, 207, RS, Jr.) can get enough protection to find either of those speedy receivers, the Skyhawks will find be a long day in Nashville. Green has completed just 61 of his 111 (.549) passes for 777 yards this season. 

If the Tigers are serious about challenging Martin, they will have to provide more obstacles for the Skyhawks to shut down. That begins in the running game.

Devon Starling (6-0, 190, RS, Fr., RB) is the leading ground gainer for the Tigers … by a country mile.

He has carried 68 times for 380 yards (5.6 ypc) on the year and has scored one touchdown. The next leading rusher has gained just 26 yards so far this season.

Nyle Love (6-1, 230, RS, So., LB) leads the Tigers with 26 (15 solo) tackles while Davoan Hawkins (6-3, 286, RS, So., DL) ranks second on the team with 24 (12 solo) tackles, including seven tackles for loss.

UT Martin: Consistency has been troublesome for UT Martin this season as it has been a matter of win one, lose one.

But when the Skyhawks win, they prove to be one of the best teams in the Ohio Valley Conference.

The Skyhawks look to get back on the winning track Sunday when they travel Music City to take on Tennessee State and will be looking to win for the second straight time against the Tigers. UTM defeated Tennessee State 28-17 the last time the two teams met seemingly long ago in 2019. UTM trails the all-time series 12-17.

Quarterback John Bachus (6-2, 215, RS, So.) is one of the best signal callers in the conference this season. He has completed 80 of 141 passes for 851 yards and has thrown for seven touchdowns.

Being efficient at throwing the ball has been made easy for Bachus considering the fact he has a trio of standout players to throw to which causes headaches for opposing defenses.

Donnell Williams (6-3, 205, RS, Sr.) can not only catch virtually anything thrown in his direction, he usually makes things happen when he does. Williams, who is averaging 18.5 yards per catch for the Skyhawks, has caught just 14 passes, but has racked up 259 yards. His yardage total ranks first among receivers on the team. He has scored two touchdowns.

Colton Dowell (6-3, 215, RS, Jr.) leads the team with 24 receptions and has added 242 yards while teammate Rodney Williams 6-4, 235, RS, Sr., WR/TE) has chipped in with 18 catches for 213 yards and has scored three times.

If there is one area of concern it is depth at running back. Peyton Logan (5-8, 190, Sr.) has proven to be reliable out of the backfield by rushing for 248 yards on 53 carries (4.7 ypc) and one touchdown.

But that is the bulk of the output. The next leading rusher on the team has just 21 yards this season.

The Skyhawks also have perhaps the best kicker in the conference in the form of Tyler Larco (5-9, 155, RS, Fr.). The talented Larco leads the team in scoring this season with 29 points after connecting on all 11 conversion kicks and making six of seven field goal attempts. He has two field goals of over 40 yards on the year.

The Martin defense is being led by Deven Sims (6-2, 200, RS, Jr. S) and John Ford (6-3, 230, RS, Jr., LB). Sims has a team-best 36 (17 solo) tackles, including four tackles for loss to lead a unit that has combined for 31 stops behind the line of scrimmage so far this season. Ford, meanwhile, has 28 (14 solo) tackles.

TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d), Radio: Panther Radio Network (Eastern Illinois), Froggy103.7FM (Murray State)

Eastern Illinois: While a win is always the goal of competition the reward for Eastern Illinois was short lived.

After knocking off Tennessee Tech 28-21 last weekend to win for the first time this season the Panthers turn around and take on league-leading Murray State on Sunday on MSU’s home field. The game also begins a stretch of three games against the leaders of the OVC pack. EIU plays Jacksonville State, which shares the conference lead with Murray State, and then closes the season the following weekend against Austin Peay.

True freshman Otto Kuhns (6-3, 205, QB) guided EIU to its win against the Golden Eagles last week. He has appeared in three games this season and has completed 34 of 61 passes for 368 yards and four touchdowns. The game against Tennessee Tech was the first start of his collegiate career.

Jaelin Benefield (5-10, 160, Sr. RB) leads the Panthers in rushing with 216 yards on 46 carries (4.7 ypc). Kendi Young (5-11, 185, FR., RB) has provided another weapon out of the backfield by rushing for 105 yards on 18 carries (5.8 ypc). The two young ball carriers only figure to improve their production with more repetitions. 

Jay Vallie (6-3, 245, Gr., SB) and DeWayne Cooks (6-2, 155, RS, So.) are two reliable pass catchers. Vallie has 13 catches to his credit for 152 yards and two touchdowns. Cooks, meanwhile, has caught 10 passes for 129 yards and one touchdown of his own.

Jason Johnson (6-2, 200, So.) and Colin Bohanek (6-0, 210, Fr.), two young linebackers, are the leaders of the defensive unit this season for EIU. Johnson has a team-high 44 (25 solo) tackles, while Bohanek has added 29 (15 solo) tackles for the Panthers.

Murray State: The Racers can ill afford to spend a moment of time looking ahead. 

Nothing good can come of it if MSU wants to remain a threat to capture the OVC championship and advance to the FCS playoffs.

Murray State will be looking to its third straight win in the series between the two schools. A win will also close the gap in the series, which EIU currently leads 19-16.

Preston Rice (6-2, 227, RS, Jr.) has led the Racer offense all season from his quarterback position. He has completed 43 of 87 passes for 562 yards and has thrown for five touchdowns. He has also added 145 rushing yards on 30 carries (4.8 ypc) and scored three more times. His rushing total ranks him second on the team in that department.

And it has been a balanced offense all season for the Racers. They have rushed for 165 yards per game and 140.8 yards per game through the air.

Damonta Witherspoon (5-10, 206, FR, RB) leads the team in rushing with his 307 yards on 64 carries (4.8 ypc). He has found the end zone twice.

LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, RS, Jr., WR) and Jacob Bell (6-3, 177, RS, So., WR) have combined to provide Rice with a pair of reliable targets to throw to. Brooks has caught 17 passes for 152 yards while Bell has chipped in with 123 yards on 11 catches.

Alec Long (5-11, 218, RS, So., LB) and Eric Samuta (5-10, 215, RS, Jr.), another linebacker, are the leaders of the MSU defensive unit. Long has a team-best 40 (16 solo) tackles while Samuta has 28 (13 solo) tackles, including 3.5 tackles for loss, to his credit.