OVC 2021 Week 3 Preview

The final weekend of non-conference action is on tap this weekend for all seven Ohio Valley Conference teams as they prepare the annual grind toward a conference championship on Sept. 25.

Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State all get the luxury of playing at home this weekend while the other four league members all hit the road for their final tune-up before the start of conference play

SE Missouri (0-0 OVC/0-2 Overall) at Missouri (0-1 SEC/1-1 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18 (11 a.m. CT), Faurot Field (62,621)Columbia, Mo.
TV/Streaming: SEC Network, ESPN+
Radio: Real Rock 99.3 FM (Cape Girardeau), KS95.1 FM (Columbia)

First Meeting: 1936 (Missouri won 20-0)
All-Time Series: Missouri leads 4-0
Last Meeting: Missouri 50, SEMO 0 (2019)

Overview

The talent laden Redhawks have yet to find their identity on the young 2021 season.

Playing one of the nation’s toughest early-season slate of games is party to blame and SEMO is hoping to start finding some of the pieces that have been missing when the Redhawks travel up the road to face Missouri in Columbia.

It will be the first meeting in history between the two schools and SEMO will be hoping to finally win against the in-state foe.

The Redhawks dropped their season opener to Southern Illinois and was blown out by defending FCS national champion Sam Houston State last weekend. SIU was ranked No. 7 in the nation to open the season and the BearKats, well, after all, they are the BearKats and were ranked No. 1 in the country for a reason.

The Tigers, meanwhile, are 1-1 as they enter Saturday’s game. They downed Central Michigan 34-24 in the opener this season and lost to Kentucky 35-28 to open Southeastern Conference play a week ago.

SEMO, which joined the Division 1 ranks in 1991, is 1-24 all-time against FBS opponents. That lone win came in 202 when the Redhawks defeated Middle Tennessee 24-14. The Redhawks have since dropped 19 straight contests against FBS teams. 

REDHAWKS

It’s become a common them in recent years that a transfer quarterback emerges as the starter for SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz. 

CJ Ogbonna (6-2, 215, Jr.) is the latest in that string of new faces of signal callers in Cape Girardeau. The Hutchinson (Kan.) Junior College transfer, the sixth different transfer to start a game at QB since 2014, has completed 22 of 46 passes for 215 and a pair of touchdowns for the Redhawks this season and has been intercepted just once.

SEMO has two of the best running backs in the league in the form of Geno Hess (5-8, 209, Sr.) and Zion Custis (5-8, 190, Sr., RB). Hess has already rushed for 146 yards this season on 33 carries (4.4 ypc) and has one touchdown. He ran for 104 yards in the loss to Southern Illinois in the season opener to give him four games of at least 100 yards in his career.

Custis, meanwhile, is currently leading the OVC in kick returns in 2021. He is averaging 26.3 yards on six kick returns and ranks seventh nationally in that department heading into Saturday’s game.

One of the intriguing aspects to the SEMO offense heading into the season was the return of a trio of outstanding receivers. That unit has added at least one other weapon already this season and could turn out to be important when the Ohio Valley Conference gets underway on Sept. 25.

Aaron Alston (6-4, 210, Sr., WR) is leading the Redhawks so far this season with 99 yards on six catches (one touchdown.) But the emergence of Terrell Jester (6-0, 190, So., WR), who has already caught five passes for 64 yards giving Ogbonna and the Redhawks another weapon in their arsenal.

Zack Smith (5-9, 200, Grad., WR) and Johnny King (6-4, 180, Sr. WR), who both enjoyed nice seasons during the spring schedule of games, have been quiet so far this fall and have combined for just five receptions and 57 yards. Smith has three receptions for 21 yards and one touchdown while King has 26 yards on two receptions.

Jacob Morrissey (6-0, 205, So., LB) gained the first start of his career last week against Sam Houston State and responded in a big way. He finished the game with six total tackles, including a pair of sacks on the day. He now has a team-best 14 (9 solo) tackles on the season, including three tackles for loss (2 sacks).

Lawrence Johnson (6-0, 194, Sr., DB) has also been active on defense and has 11 (6 solo) tackles on the season and has recovered one fumble for SEMO. Bryce Noble

SCOUTING THE TIGERS

Tyler Badie (5-8, 194, Sr., RB) has proven to be one of the most versatile players in the SEC so far this season. He leads Missouri in rushing and receiving and is averaging nearly 200 yards of offense through the first two games of the year.

He has rushed 39 times for 264 yards (6.8 ypc) and one touchdown while adding 128 yards on 13 receptions and two more scores for the Tigers.

Quarterback Connor Bazelak (6-3, 212, RS-So.) has also been efficient for Missouri. He has completed 66 percent (55-83) of his passes for 551 yards and six touchdowns while being intercepted just once so far this season.

The Tigers need to find players to compliment Badie both running and catching the football. Tauskie Dove (6-2, 195, RS-Jr., WR) and Niko Hea (6-4, 245, Jr., TE) are two players who could emerge to play a big role as the MU offense continues to improve. Both have caught seven passes this season for 87 and 45 yards, respectively. Hea has also scored one touchdown.

The Missouri defense is being paced by Jaylon Carlisle (6-3, 204, So., DB) and Martez Manuel (6-0, 208, Jr.), another defensive back, who have both tallied 11 tackles this season. Carlisle has 10 solo tackles to his credit while Manuel has seven solo stops.

Fearless Prediction: Missouri 35, SE Missouri 17

Tennessee Tech (0-0 OVC/0-2 Overall) at Tennessee (0-0 SEC/1-1 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18 (11 a.m. CT), Neyland Stadium (102,455)Knoxville, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: SEC Network
Radio: WTTU 88.5 FM (Cookeville), WIVK 107.7 FM (Knoxville)

First Meeting: 1947 (Tennessee won 49-0)
All-Time Series: Tennessee leads 6-0
Last Meeting: Tennessee 55, Tennessee Tech 0 (2016)

Overview

Tennessee Tech, which was shutout for the first time in coach Dewayne Alexander’s career last week by Furman, gets one final opportunity to get things in order before the start of the Ohio Valley Conference schedule kicks off on Sept. 25

But it may be a monumental task to overcome this week’s opponent, but as long as the Golden Eagles answer some question marks this weekend, the start of the OVC season could go much smoother.

After a short stint as coach at Central Florida, former Heisman Trophy runner-up (2000) Josh Heupel has taken over the storied Tennessee program. His tenure near the headwaters of the Tennessee River got off to a rousing start with a convincing 38-6 win over Bowling Green, who tangles with Murray State this weekend. The Vols are coming off a 41-34 loss to Pittsburgh in the Johnny Majors Classic last weekend.

That game is in honor of Johnny Majors, a former standout player at Tennessee (1953-56) who later went on to coach at Tennessee (1977-92) and two stints at Pittsburgh (1973-76, 93-96). His Panthers won the national title in 1976.

Tennessee Tech

GOLDEN EAGLES

Davis Shanley (6-2, 204, Grad.) and Willie Miller (6-0, 178, So., QB) continue to split time under center for the Golden Eagles so far this season and neither has been lighting things up for the TTU offense.

Shanley, who transferred over the summer after playing at Western Kentucky, has taken most of the snaps during games so far. He has completed 25 of his 55 pass attempts for 219 yards and just one touchdown while being picked off four times in the two games this fall.  Miller, who operated the Tech offense during the spring season, has thrown for 41 yards after completing six of his 12 passes. The Golden Eagles have managed just 130 yards per game through the air.

The other skill positions are also looking to establish an identity after struggling in the first two games. Running back David Gist (5-11, 190, Jr.) has been limited to just 104 yards on 26 carries (4.0 ypc) and one touchdown this season. The next highest rushing to total on the team is just 15 yards and the Golden Eagles are averaging just 46 yards rushing per game.

Nearly one-third of the 31 combined pass completions registered by Shanley and Miller this season have come to rest in the hands of talented Quinton Cross (5-11, 175, RS-Sr., WR). He has 10 catches for 94 yards while Gist has seven catches for 30 yards. Justin Oden (6-3, 175, So., WR), who had caught three passes for 23 yards, has the team’s lone touchdown through the air.

The defense has been giving up more than 400 yards per game to the opposition and must also crack down on that side of the ball if the Golden Eagles hope to become a factor in the OVC when conference play gets underway.

Seth Carlisle (6-0, 225, Jr., LB) and Josh Reliford (5-10, 208, RS-Jr., DB) led the Golden Eagles on defense through the first two games of the season. Carlisle has a team-best 17 (5 solo) tackles while Reliford is right behind with 16 (6 solo) stops on the year, as does Jamal Boyd (6-0, 190, So., DB), who has five solo stops as part of his 16 tackles on the season.

Jack Warwick (6-0, 224, RS-So., LB) and Nyqua Washington (5-11, 170, Fr., DB) have chipped in with 13 and 11 total tackles, respectively, for Tech. Troubling though is that nine on Washington’s stops have been unassisted and having three defensive backs among the top five tacklers only proves the secondary needs to tighten up. Heading into Saturday’s game the Golden Eagles are allowing 287 yards per game through the air.

Getting added pressure on the opposition from the TTU defensive front would help cutting down on the pressure on the defensive backfield.

SCOUTING THE VOLUNTEERS

Who will be throwing passes for Tennessee this weekend remains to be seen. Joe Milton (6-5, 244, RS-Jr., QB), a transfer from Michigan, has completed 18 of 35 passes this season for 189 yards and one touchdown while adding 98 rushing yards on 19 carries (5.2 ypc).

But he was replaced in favor of Hendon Hooker (6-4, 218, RS-Sr.,) as the Vols attempted to rally against the Panthers last week. Hooker, a transfer from Virginia Tech, responded by throwing for 188 yards (15-21), but came up short in the UT comeback bid. Hooker has now completed 16 of 22 passes on the season for 193 yards and one touchdown.

Jabari Small (5-11, 206, So., RB) leads the team with 135 yards rushing on 30 carries (4.5 ypc) and a pair of scores. Teammate Tiyon Evans (5-11, 220, Jr., RB) has added 120 yards on 16 carries (7.5 ypc) and one touchdown of his own. All of his offense came in the first game of the season

Cedric Tillman (6-3, 215, RS-Jr., WR) leads the Vols with a team-high 68 yards receiving on three catches and one TD. Jalin Hyatt (6-0, 175, So., WR) and Jimmy Calloway (6-0, 190, So. WR) have combined for seven receptions on the season with Hyatt owning four of those for 62 yards and Calloway has the other three receptions for 59 yards. Teammate Jacob Warren (6-6, 246, RS-Jr., TE) also has 59 yards on a team-high six receptions.

Theo Jackson (6-2, 203, Sr., DB) is the team’s leading tackler. He has 22 (13 solo) stops already this season and the next closest tackler, Jeremy Banks (6-1, 224, RS-Jr., LB), who has 11 (8 solo) stops to his credit. Included in that total are three tackles for lost. Trevon Flowers (5-11, 200, Sr., DB) is the only other Vol with at least 10 tackles. He has five solo tackles among his 10 total stops.

Fearless Prediction: Tennessee 42, Tennessee Tech 10

Morehead State at Austin Peay (0-0 OVC/1-1 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18 (2 p.m.), Fortera Stadium (10,000)Clarksville, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: WIVY 96.3 FM (Morehead), ESPN 104.1 FM (Clarksville)

First Meeting: 1962
All-Time Series: Morehead State leads 19-27
Last Meeting: Austin Peay 78, Morehead State 40 (2018)

Overview: Despite a blowout loss a week ago at Ole Miss, the is plenty of reason for optimism as the 2021 season continues for Austin Peay.

The Govs will be looking for their third straight victory over a ranked FCS opponent when the open the home portion of the schedule against visiting Morehead State. APSU defeated No. 7 Jacksonville State (13-10) and No. 13 Murray State (34-31) to close the spring schedule. APSU opened the new season with a 30-20 win over No. 18 Chattanooga before seeing the three-game winning streak snapped by the FBS Rebels.

Austin Peay, which trails in the all-time series against the Eagles, will look to extend its winning streak over MSU to four games with a win on Saturday.

Governors 

Draylen Ellis (6-0, 175, So., QB) has been operating the AP offense in an efficient manner since assuming the leadership role during the spring season. 

The OVC preseason co-offensive player of the year before the start of the 2021 season, Ellis has already completed 45 of 73 passes for 551 yards and five touchdowns through the first two contests.

He threw for just 265 yards (16-30) in the first two games (1 touchdown/2 interceptions) during the spring season. Since that time, he has completed 112 of 195 passes for 1,331 yards and 17 touchdowns. He has been picked off just four times during the current span of games.

Ahmaad Tanner (6-0, 205, Grad., RB) is leading the Govs in rushing through the first two games this season. He has carried the ball 37 times for 173 yards (4.7 ypc) and will be looking to find the end zone for the first time in Saturday’s game at home.

The presence of the talented Tanner in the backfield prevents opposing defenses to focus too much on stopping the run since the Govs also have a pair of the best pass catchers in the league in the form of Baniko Hartley (6-0, 227, Grad., WR) and Drae McCray (5-8, 176, Fr., WR). That tandem has combined for 20 receptions and nearly 400 yards so far this season. 

Hartley leads the way with 194 yards on nine catches, an impressive 21.6 yards per catch, and a pair of touchdowns. McCray, meanwhile, has a team-best 11 receptions and has 174 yards (15.8 ypc) to his credit, along with one touchdown.

The Gov defense is being anchored nicely by five standouts and just how well the Eagles, and future opponents, can plan to offset that wealth of talent that is spread across the field will likely play a big role in whether APSU manages to make a push toward the playoffs this season.

Koby Perry (6-0, 174, Grad., DB) and Kordell Jackson (5-10, 185, Grad., DB) are leading the way on defense. Perry has a team-high 18 (13 solo) tackles, while Jackson, the OVC preseason defensive player of the year, is not far behind with 16 (10 solo) tackles of his own. Jackson also has tallied 4.5 tackles for loss already this season and Perry has chipped in with 1.5 TFLs of his own. Shamari Simmons (5-11, 197, Jr.,), another defensive back, has posted 13 (8 solo) tackles on the young season.

Linebackers Troy Henderson (5-11, 222, Grad.) and Jack McDonald (6-0, 210, Grad.), who has led the team in tackles each of the past two seasons, have tallied 10 and nine total tackles, respectively, through the first two games of the season.

SCOUTING THE EAGLES

The Eagles, who tied for second place in the Pioneer Football League during the abbreviated spring season, were picked to finish seventh in the Pioneer Football League preseason poll. 

MSU allowed an average of 404 yards per game during the spring season, including 232 yards on the ground, which was in the bottom of the national statistics.

The Eagles did manage, however, to forced 19 turnovers to rank fifth in the nation in that department. Their 14 interceptions led the nation and they ranked seventh in turnover margin (+1.14) in the FCS.

Mike Pappas (6-2, 213, RS-Jr., QB) has completed 51 of 87 passes (3 interceptions) so far this season. All five of the TD passes he has thrown on the season came in the Eagle’s last outing when they trounced Point University 62-9.

BJ Byrd (6-0, 190, Sr., WR) is one of the top receivers in the PFL and has already caught 18 passes for 229 yards and a pair of scores for the Eagles.

MSU has struggled to gets in ground game going in the early portion of the season. A total of seven players have taken turns at running the football but have not had much luck. They have combined for 51 carries for 92 yards through the first two games with James Louis (5-8, 185, Fr., RB) leading the way with four carries for 45 yards (11.2 ypc).

Cam Marriott (6-3, 300, Jr., OL), along with Pappas and Byrd, were voted to the PFL preseason all-conference team this season.

Vaughn Taylor (6-3, 252, Sr., DL), is among the nation’s leaders in tackles for loss. Through two games this season he has nine (8 solo) tackles, including four TFLs. He is one of five players with at least nine total tackles on the season for the Eagles. 

Sese Aumavae (6-0, 233, Jr., LB) and Jelani Ray Garcia (5-9, 177, Sr., DB) both 10 total stops on the season. Cooper Krezek (6-0, 200, RS-Fr., DB) and Preston Toner (6-2, 216, RS-Fr., LB) have matched Taylor’s tackle total heading into Saturday’s game against the Govs.

Fearless Prediction: Austin Peay 45, Morehead State 14

Kentucky State 0-0 SIAC/1-1 Overall) at Tennessee State (0-0 OVC/0-2 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18 (4 p.m. CT)
Where: Nissan Stadium (69,143), Nashville, Tenn.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscripton req’d)
Radio: 102.1 FM (Nashville)

Overview

Tennessee State, under the new leadership of former Heisman Trophy winner Eddie George, will look to get its first win for the new coach on Saturday when the Tigers tangle with Kentucky State inside Nissan Stadium, home of the Tennessee Titans of the National Football League.

But this game will hold special significance for a number of reasons.

The game, the John Merritt Classic, began in 1999 and is named in honor of the Kentucky State graduate and the winningest coach in Tennessee State football history.

Merritt would register 21 consecutive winning seasons during his coaching career, including four undefeated seasons, and winning six national championships. 

He began his coaching career at Jackson State (1962-72) before taking over at Tennessee the following season. coached TSU to a record of 172-33-7 in his 21 seasons (1963-83) at the school and ended his hall of fame coaching career with a record of 232-65-11.

SCOUTING THE THOROBREDS

KSU, a member of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, an NCA Division II league, is off to a 1-1 start this season. The Thorobreds defeated Central State (Ohio) 20-6 in the season opener before falling to Kentucky Wesleyan 26-25 last week at home in Frankfort.

Jaylon Myers (6-3, Jr., QB) has completed 12 of 20 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns while in control of the Thorobred offense while three running backs are off to solid starts to the 2021 campaign. He has thrown just one interception this season.

Brett Sylve (5-8, Sr.) leads that troup with 11 yards on 29 carries (3.8 ypc) and one touchdown so far on the year. Teammates Kendra Walker (5-11, Jr.) and Christopher Coneway, a freshman, have rushed for 94 and 93 yards, respectively. Walker is averaging 6.7 yards on 14 carries while Coneway is rushing for 7.2 yards on his 13 carries this season.

The team’s leading pass catcher is Jordan Level (6-2, Sr., WR) who has three catches for 43 yards this season.

Artest Banks (6-0, Jr., LB) and Jimmy Edmonds (6-4, So. DL) have combined for 3.5 tackles for loss to lead the KSU defense. Banks has eight (4 solo) tackles on the year and Edmonds also has eight stops, five of those unassisted.

Fearless Prediction: Tennessee State 31, Kentucky State 14

Murray State (0-0 OVC/1-1 Overall) at Bowling Green (0-0 MAC/0-2 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18
Where: Doyt Perry Stadium (24,000), Bowling Green, Ohio
TV/Streaming: ESPN3
Radio: Froggy 103.7 FM (Murray), WFRO Eagle 99 FM (Bowling Green)

First Meeting: 2013
All-Time Series: Bowling Green leads 1-0
Last Meeting: Bowling Green won 48-7 (2013)

Overview: Murray State and Bowling Green will be meeting for just the second time and the host Falcons will be looking to improve to 2-0 all-time against the Racers.

BGSU has lost both games so far this season, including a 22-19 loss to South Alabama last week on a last-second field goal. The Falcons lost to Tennessee 38-6 in the season opener.

A win by Murray State will give the Racers their first win over an FBS team since defeating Louisville in 1984.

The Falcons enter the game 12.5 points per game on the young season. They also appear to be one-dimensional as they are averaging 247.5 yards per game through the air and just 20.5 yards via the ground.

The BGSU defense is yielding a total of 421 yards per game. Most of those yards by the opposition have come through the air where the Falcons are giving up 220 yards per game, while the rushing defense is a tad better, giving up just 201 yards per contest.

RACERS

Murray State will be looking to get back on the winning track this week with a win over the Falcons.

And it appears the Racers have a chance to do just that and add to the FCS’ impressive season so far against FBS competition.

Preston Rice (6-2, 227, RS-Jr., QB) has been efficient and diplomatic in running the MSU offense this season. He has completed 27 of 46 passes for 297 yards and four touchdowns through the first two games. The lone knock against him is the four interceptions he has already thrown.

Rice is also one of three Racers averaging at least 50 yards per game on the game while eight players have caught passes on the season which goes a long way in keeping opposing defenses off balance.

Cortezz Jones (5-11, 226, RS-Fr., RB) is leading the way on the ground. He has rushed 12 times for 109 yards (9.1 ypc) and one touchdown while Rice has 102 yards on 18 carries (5.7 ypc) and a team-high five touchdowns. Damonta Witherspoon (5-10, 206, RS-Fr., RB) is right behind with 101 yards on 30 carries (3.4 ypc) for the Racers.

LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, RS-Jr., WR) is the team’s leading pass catcher. He has eight receptions for 101 yards so far this season.

The MSU defense has a chance to improve its numbers this week against the Falcons. The Racers are allowing 348.5 yards per game to opponents this season and most of those yards (200/game) are coming on the ground.

DaVontae McKee (5-10, 174, RS-So., CB) is leading the way on defense for the Racers. He has nine (8 solo) tackles this season. He has been credited with one tackle for loss and has one interception already this season.

Levi Metheny (6-0, 233, RS, LB) and Eric Samula (5-10, 215, RS-Jr., LB) both have eight total tackles their credit through the first two contests this season. Four other players have six stops to their credit heading into the game against the Falcons.

SCOUTING THE FALCONS

Matt McDonald (6-3, 210, Sr., QB) is charged with operating the Falcon offense from behind center. He has completed 48 of his 70 pass attempts this season and has thrown for just one touchdown.

His passes have been distributed among a bevy of targets, but with very limited success. Austin Osborne (6-2, 205, Jr., WR) has caught 15 passes for 84 yards so far this season.

The running attack from the Falcons has been virtually nonexistent this season. Terion Stewart (5-9, 210, RS-Fr., RB) has rushed for 29 yards on 12 carries (2.4 ypc) through the first two games to lead the team in that department. On his heels is Nick Mosley (5-10, 200, Fr., RB), who has rushed eight times on 26 carries (3.3 ypc). Mosley’s output is a tad misleading since 24 of those yards came on one play earlier this season.

Darren Anders (6-0, 230, Jr., LB) and Davon Ferguson (5-10, 190, Sr., CB) have been the leaders on defense for Bowling Green so far this season. Anders has tallied 22 (9 solo) tackles, including two tackles for loss this season. Ferguson, meanwhile, has added 20 (13 solo) stops of his own. He has been credited with 1.5 TFLs.

Fearless Prediction: Murray State 21, Bowling Green 18

UT Martin (0-0 OVC/1-1 Overall) at Northwestern State (0-0 SLC/0-2 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18
Where: Turpin Stadium (15,971), Natchitoches, La.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: 1410 AM/100.5 FM (Cookeville), 94.9 FM (Natchitoches)

First Meeting: UTM 17, Northwestern State 14 (1965)
All-Time Series: UTM leads 2-1
Last Meeting: UTM 42, Northwestern State 20 (2019)

Overview

UT Martin is riding a wave of optimism following its 33-27 comeback win over Samford last week that saw the Bulldogs score the first 17 points of the game thanks in large part to five turnovers by the Skyhawks in the first 16 minutes of the game. 

Now the Skyhawks are hoping to only elevate that optimism with a solid showing on the road at Northwestern State on Saturday at Turpin Stadium in Natchitoches.

It will be the fourth meeting between the two schools with UTM holding a narrow 2-1 advantage in the previous matchups.

UT Martin Skyhawks

UTM had a hayday while collecting OVC honors following the win over Samford and enters this weekend’s contest as the top team in the league in scoring offense (27 ppg), total offense (432.5 ypg), rushing offense (220.5).

Keon Howard (6-1, 215, Grad., QB) passed for 220 yards and ran for 66 more in the win over the Bulldogs and earned newcomer of the year honors by the league earlier this week. The Tulane transfer now has 429 passing yards on 38 of 73 passing. He has thrown for three touchdowns but has been intercepted four times on the year. He also upped his season rushing total to 110 yards on 28 carries (3.9 ypc) and has scored three times on the ground.

All-Everything Peyton Logan (5-8, 190, Sr., RB) won offensive player of the week accolades after accounting for 169 all-purpose yards last week, including a pair of long touchdowns that covered 60 and 51 yards. He led the team with 16 carries for 122 yards (7.6 ypc) and has been equally lethal at catching the ball. He has six receptions on the season for 122 aerial yards and the two touchdowns from a week ago. 

Colton Dowell (6-3, 215, RS-Jr., WR) and Donnell Williams (6-3, 205, Grad., WR) have combined to catch 15 passes on the young season for just over 200 total yards. Dowell leads the way with eight catches for 121 yards and one touchdown while Williams has caught seven passes for 80 yards of his own.

The Martin defense is also shining bright in the early season. The Skyhawks rank first in the OVC in several defensive categories, including rushing defense (73.9 ypg) and interceptions (3).

DeCarrious Stephens (6-0, 225, Sr., LB), the reigning OVC defensive player of the week, had five total tackles to up his season totals to 13 (8 solo) on the season in the win over the Bulldogs. He had 1.5 tackles for loss and a key interception that preserved the win for the Skyhawks last week.

Deven Sims (6-2, 200, RS-Jr., S) has a team-leading 15 (8 solo) tackles on the season and teammate John Ford (6-3, 230, Grad., LB) has chipped in with 10 (5 solo) tackles for the Skyhawks. 

That trio of defensive stalwarts have combined for four TFLs on the season for UTM.

Scouting the Demons

After opening the season with back-to-back setbacks on the road NSU hopes the familiar confines of Turpin Stadium provides the tonic to find the win column for the first time this season. The Demons have been outscored 57-24 in their two losses to North Texas (44-14) and Alcorn State (13-10).

The 12.0 points per game is among the lowest in the FCS so far this season.

Kaleb Fletcher (5-10, 200, Jr., QB) has completed 35 of his 53 passes this season for 373 yards and two touchdowns. He has also been intercepted twice on the year.

The Demons do have one of the most exciting players in the Southland Conference in the form of Scooter Adams (5-9, 180, Jr., RB) who is averaging more than 100 yards per game on offense this season. He has rushed 31 times for 149 yards (4.8 ypc) and one touchdown. He has added eight catches out of the backfield for 58 additional yards making him a focal point of opposing defenses.

Kendrick Price (6-2, 205, Sr., WR) is the team’s leading receiver. He has seven receptions for 129 yards for an amazing 18.4 yards per catch for NSU.

Linebacker Jomad Valsin (6-2, 245, Jr.) has a team-best 15 (7 solo) tackles on the season for the Demons while Ja’Quay Pough (6-1, 235, Sr.), another linebacker, and Kyle Moore (6-2, 205, LB) have each added 13 totals tackles of their own.

Fearless Prediction: UT Martin 34, Northwestern State 11

Illinois State (0-0 MVFC/1-1 Overall) at Eastern Illinois (0-0 OVC/0-3 Overall)
When: Saturday, Sept. 18
Where: O’Brien Field (10,000), Charleston, Ill.
TV/Streaming: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: WJBC 1230 AM/102.1 FM (Normal), Hit Mix 89.9 FM (Charleston)

First Meeting: Eastern Illinois 28, Illinois State 0 (1901)
All-Time Series: ISU leads 57-42-9
Last Meeting: ISU 21, IU 3 (2019)

Overview

A pair of old rivals take to the gridiron for the 109th time on Saturday when Illinois State and Eastern Illinois squae off in the home opener for the Panthers.

The rivalry is the longest FCS rivalry game in the nation between non-conference members and is the eighth longest among non-Ivy League members. 

EIU has lost all three of its contests so far this season and part of that inability to get its offense in sync is the revolving door at quarterback. Otto Kuhns (6-3, 205, Fr.) and Chris Katrenick (6-3, 215, RS-So.) have both appeared in two games this season for the Panthers.

Kuhns, who played well during the spring season, has posted the better offensive numbers this fall that his counterpart. He has completed 19 of 41 passes for 313 yards and one touchdown while Katrenick has thrown for 189 yards on 25 of 48 passing. The duo has combined to throw five interceptions with Katrenick being picked off three times.

Harrison Bey-Buie (5-10, 205, Fr., RB) is the team’s leading rusher. He has gained 93 yards on 23 carries (4.0 ypc) and has scored one touchdown. Markenzy Pierre (5-11, 215, RS-Jr., RB) has chipped in with 62 yards on 21 carries (3.0 ypc) of his own.

The Panthers have a trio of talented receivers who could emerge as true threats in the OVC if the quarterbacks can settle down and become more efficient passing the football.

Robbie Lofton (6-3, 185, RS-Sr.) leads the team with 10 catches for 89 yards and one touchdown. Tyler Ringwood (6-2, 215, RS-Sr.) and Aaron Foulkes (5-8, 165, Fr.) have caught just eight passes between them but have made those receptions count. Ringwood is averaging 23.2 yards per catch to account for his 116 yards on the season and Foulkes has racked up 52 yards on his three catches for an average of 17.3 yards each time he successfully receives a throw.

Logan Neidhardt (6-2, 220, Grad., P), a graduate transfer from Ohio Dominican, ranks 23 in the FCS in punting with an average of 45.9 yards per punt this season. He has five punts over 50 yards and six of his 16 punts have landed inside the 20-yard line.

Jordan Vincent (5-10, 185, Grad., SS) is the leading tackler for the Panthers this season. He had 12 total tackles in last week’s loss at Dayton and now has 24 (17 solo) tackles on the year. His 8.0 tackles per game ranks third in the OVC and 21 of his 24 tackles have come in the last two games.

Colin Bohanek (6-0, 210, Fr., LB) and Jason Johnson (6-2, 200, So., LB) have both tallied at least 20 total tackles through the first three games of the season for the Panthers. Bohanek has 22 (7 solo) tackles while Johnson has 20 (10 solo), including 2.5 tackles for loss which is tied for second on the team in that department.

Scouting the Redbirds

Illinois State made plenty of news during the abbreviated season when the school decided to opt out of the final four games of the season after getting off to a 1-3 start during the spring.

The Redbirds enter the rivalry game this weekend against the Panthers with a 1-1 record. The easily defeated Butler 49-7 in the season opener before losing to Western Michigan 28-0 last weekend.

Bryce Jefferson (6-2, 220, So., QB) operates the ISU offense and has completed 16 of 36 passes for 232 yards and a pair of touchdowns on the young season.

Cole Mueller (6-0, 215, RS-Fr., RB), who missed all of last season with an injury, and Kevin Brown (5-8, 190, So., RB) are both performing well this fall. Mueller is the leading rusher with 117 yards on 12 carries (5.8 ypc) and  two scores while Brown has added 87 yards on nine carries (9.7 ypc) so far this season.

The team’s leading receiver is Austin Nagel (6-1, 200, Jr., WR) who has caught three passes for 76 yards, an astonishing 25.3 yards per reception, and one touchdown.

Keaton Wilhoit (6-2, 235, RS-Fr., DB) leads the team with 16 (7 solo) while his teammate in the secondary, Braden Price (6-0. 195, RS-Fr.) has tallied 13 (10 solo) tackles already this season and leads the Redbirds with a pair of interceptions.

Fearless Prediction: Illinois State 28, Eastern Illinois 14

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