The way the Ohio Valley Conference standings look heading into the sixth week of the season are likely not to be the same way the ledger will look when the dust settles on the regular season.
It’s possible. But not very likely.
Eastern Illinois, a team that has struggled in recent years, currently sits atop the league standings. And the Panthers will remain there no matter what happens this weekend as EIU and fellow OVC member Tennessee State are both enjoying an open date as they prepare for the meat of the conference schedule when they return to action Oct. 19.
All other OVC teams are in action this weekend and movement in the standings is likely.
Tennessee Tech (1-1 OVC/1-4 Overall) at N.C. Central (0-0 MEAC/2-3 Overall)
When: Oct. 9 (1 p.m. ET)
Where: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium (10,000), Durham, N.C.
TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: KISS 98.5 FM (Cookeville), Modern Rock 98.7 FM (Durham)
First Meeting: First Meeting
Both Tennessee Tech and N.C. Central are looking for gain some much-needed momentum as each school prepares to enter the heart of their respective conference schedules and hopes of a berth in the FCS playoffs.
It will be the first-ever meeting between the two schools.
THE GOLDEN EAGLES
Tennessee Tech got massive infusion of confidence and momentum with its 28-17 win over Southeast Missouri last week the moved the Golden Eagles and Redhawks into a second-place tie in the Ohio Valley Conference standings.
Drew Martin (6-2, 201, RS-So.) leads a trio of players who have seen time under center for the Golden Eagles this season. He has completed 41 of 61 passes for 440 yards and has thrown three interceptions. Davis Shanley (6-2, 209, Grad.), a transfer from Western Kentucky, has thrown for 252 yards after completing just 30 of his 64 pass attempts and has been picked off six times already this season.
Willie Miller (6-0, 178, So., QB) has also seen time at the position and has completed 13 of 31 passes for 133 yards and one touchdown. He has been intercepted twice.
David Gist (5-11, 190, Jr., RB) is the team’s leading ground gainer. He has rushed 74 times for 314 yards (4.2 ypc) and four touchdowns.
Quinton Cross (5-11, 175, RS-So., WR) is the team’s leading receiver with 25 catches for 345 yards and a pair of touchdowns for TTU.
Josh Reliford (5-10, 200, RS-Jr., DB) is far and away the team’s leading defender. He has already amassed 45 (25 solo) tackles, including four stops for loss on the season.
and Seth Carisle (6-0, 225, Jr., LB) and Jamal Boyd (6-0, 190, So., DB) have tallied 27 and 25 total tackles, respectively for the Golden Eagles. Carlisle has been credited with 10 solo tackles while Boyd is a tad better with 11 stops for loss of yardage.
Teammates Jack Warwick (6-0, 224, RS-So., LB) and Nyqua Washington (5-11, 170, Fr., DB) have tallied 28 and 24 total tackles, respectively, on the season.
SCOUTING THE EAGLES
North Carolina Central was getting some attention as being one of the top teams in the MEAC as the 2021 season prepared to get underway. If that is to come to fruition could depend heavily on how well the Eagles do on Saturday when Tennessee Tech invades O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium to help N.C. State close out the non-conference portion of its schedule.
NCSU will have an open date next week before beginning conference play Oct. 23 at Morgan State.
Davius Richard (6-3, 200, So., QB) has completed 65 of his 118 pass attempts this season for 713 yards and three touchdowns. He has also thrown three interceptions. Richard is third on the team with 115 yards rushing after carrying the ball 32 times (3.6 ypc) and has run for a trio of scores for the Eagles.
Isaiah Tuttle (5-9, 195, RS-Sr., RB) leads the team with 144 yards on 41 carries (3.5 ypc). He is still looking for his first touchdown of the season. Teammate Jamal Currie-Elliott (5-10, 185, RS-So., RB) has chipped in with 116 yards on 28 carries (4.1 ypc).
Ryan McDaniel (6-2, 215, Sr., WR) leads the team in receiving with 27 catches for 389 yards and a pair of scores. He could certainly use some help in that department though. His 389 yards accounts for nearly half of the Eagles’ 847 yards through the air on the season.
Cole Williams (6-0, 210, RS-So., LB) and Noah Rainbow-Douglas (6-0, 215, RS-Sr., LB), had tallied 37 and 36 tackles, respectively, to pace the NCSU defense. Williams has been credited with 15 solo tackles while Rainbow-Douglas has 10 solo tackles to his credit along with two tackles for loss, which is tied for third on the team in that department.
Murray State (0-0 OVC/2-2 Overall) at UT Martin (0-0 OVC/3-1 Overall)
When: Oct. 9 (2 p.m. CT)
Where: Hardy M. Graham Stadium (7,500), Martin, Tenn.
TV: ESPN+ (subscription req’d)
Radio: Froggy 103.7 FM (Murray), WCMT 1410 AM/100.5 FM (Cookeville)
First Meeting: 1924 (Murray State 13, UT Martin 0 @ Murray)
All-Time Series: MSU leads 38-21-1
Last Meeting: MSU 14, UTM 10 (spring 2020)
What better way to kick things off in the Ohio Valley Conference than a matchup of two of the best teams in the league heading into the 2021 season?
Murray State, the preseason favorite in the league poll, and UT Martin square off in the conference opener for both teams on Saturday in Martin. The Skyhawks were tied for second in the preseason poll with Southeast Missouri.
Murray State has put up pretty decent numbers on offense through the first four games of the season. The Racers are averaging 161.5 yards per game rushing and its passing is not far behind at 149.8 yards per contest.
And the 2-2 record is a tad bit misleading at both losses have come at the hands of FCS foes, including loss to Cincinnati, which is currently ranked fifth in the latest AP poll after its win last week against Notre Dame.
Preston Rice (6-2, 227, RS-Jr.) continues to operate the Race offense from under center. He has completed 53 of 99 passes this season for 599 yards and has added 80 rushing yards on 30 carries (2.7 ypc) and has scored five touchdowns. He 80 yards on the ground ranks second on the team in that department.
If there is any knock against Rice it is the fact that he has thrown eight interceptions already this season. That number has to be reduced in a big way of Murray State is to make a serious run toward the first OVC title at the school since 2002.
Damonta Witherspoon (5-10, 206, RS-Fr., RB) is the team’s leading ground gainer. He has rushed 70 times for 280 yards (4.0 ypc) and has score a pair of touchdowns. LaMartez Brooks (6-1, 192, RS-Jr., WR) is leading the team in receptions with 17 and in receiving yards with 211.
The MSU defense, which currently ranks 15th in the nation when opponents are in the red zone, will be tasked with trying to ground the Skyhawks who are averaging 430.8 yards of total offense and 30.8 points per game through the first four games this season. Making things more difficult is the fact UTM’s offense is perhaps one of the most balanced offenses in the country. The Skyhawks are averaging 218 yards per game on the ground and 212.8 yards through the air.
It will be a challenge stopping the Skyhawks, but MSU, which has five red zone stops already this season, appears to have the manpower to do just that.
Eric Samula (5-10, 215, Jr., LB) and Cortez Roberts (5-11, 198, RS-Jr., S) are pacing the MSU defense. Samula has posted 20 (6 solo) tackles through the first four games while Roberts has equaled Samula with 20 (14 solo) stops of his own. Levi Methany (6-0, 233, RS-Jr., LB) has chipped in with 19 (12 solo) tackles.
Murray State placekicker Aaron Baum (6-2, 250, RS-Jr.) booted three 40-plus yard field goals and added an successful PAT in last week’s win over Eastern Illinois and was named the league’s specialist of the week earlier this week.
Keon Howard (6-1, 215, Grad., QB), a transfer from Tulane, has stepped in and operated the UTM offense with great efficiency so far this season. He has completed 73 of his 120 passes for 851 yards and has already tossed seven touchdowns. What is also impressive is the fact that he has completed passes to 13 different receivers on the season.
He also ranks second on the team in rushing with 189 yards on a team-best 43 carries (4.4 ypc) and has run in five times for scores for the Skyhawks.
Howard has no need to shoulder the rushing load for his team. After all, the Skyhawks possess one of the top rushers in the league in the form of Peyton Logan (5-8, 190, Sr, RB) who leads the team with 368 yards on 42 carries (8.8 ypc) and one touchdown. He is averaging 92 yards per game on the ground. And like Howard, Logan is versatile. He has caught 13 passes for 132 yards and a pair of scores.
Zak Wallace (6-0, 229, RS-Fr., RB) has also provided the Skyhawks with some more than adequate depth at running the football. He has carried 37 times for 155 yards (4.2 ypc) and three TDs.
The team’s leading receiver is Colton Dowell (6-3, 215, RS-Jr., WR) who has caught 18 passes for 249 yards and two touchdowns for the Skyhawks.
UTM’s defense is as balanced as its offense. They have three players averaging more than five tackles per game already this season and five different players have combined for five interceptions. Deven Sims (6-2, 200, RS-Jr., S) has 26 (14 solo) tackles to lead the way and among his total tackles are 1.5 stops for loss. D’Carrious Stephens (6-0, 22, Grad., LB) is not far behind. He has 22 (11 solo) tackles to his credit and also has 1.5 tackles for negative yardage while John Ford (6-3, 230, Grad.), another linebacker, has registered 21 (9 solo) tackles, including a pair of TFLs.
JaQuez Aikins (5-9, 185, Sr., Rover) may not have a lot of tackles but what he has accumulated he has made count for the Skyhawks. Aikins as 10 (6 solo) tackles on the year, but his 3.5 tackles for loss leads the team in that department.
Southeast Missouri (1-1 OVC/1-4 Overall) at Austin Peay (0-0 OVC/2-3 Overall)
When: Oct. 9 (3 p.m. CT)
Where: Fortera Stadium (5,500), Clarksville, Tenn.
Radio: Real Rock 99.3 FM (Cape Girardeau), ESPN 104.1 FM (Clarksville)
First Meeting: 1953
All-Time Series: SEMO leads 16-9
Last Meeting: APSU 49, SEMO 42 (2-OT) (spring 2021)
The last four meetings between these two schools have all been decided by a touchdown or less.
Whether or not this one goes the same way will depend in large part on which APSU hits the field. But, the same can also be said of the visiting Redhawks.
SEMO open OVC play two weeks ago with an impressive 47-14 win over Tennessee State, but saw a 10-0 halftime lead evaporate last week in 28-17 loss at Tennessee Tech.
This will also be Austin Peay’s final OVC season opener. The school announced last month it is leaving the historic league in July to join the ASUN.
Don’t be surprised when you see Southeast Missouri running the football. Few schools do it any better than the Redhawks.
They are one of just two teams in the conference whose offense has gained more than half its total offense this season. UT Martin is the other.
SEMO is one of just 11 teams in the FCS with more than 1,000 rushing yards through the first five weeks of the season and its 209.0 yards per game on the ground ranked 18th in the nation.
The defense yielding 470.6 yards per game, which ranks 110th nationally. But that number is misleading after the brutal schedule the Redhawks had in the first three weeks of the season as they faced FCS ranked teams in Southern Illinois and Sam Houston State. They also played Missouri of the Southeastern Conference.
In comparison SEMO has allowed just 564 yards of offense in its two conference games so far in 2021.
Geno Hess (5-8, 09, Sr., RB), one of the most dynamic players in the OVC, leads the Redhawks in rushing this season. He is averaging 94 yards per game on the ground after carrying 87 times for 470 yards (5.4 ypc) and scoring 6 touchdowns already on the year.
C.J. Ogbonna (6-2, 215, Jr., QB), a junior college transfer who is in his first season at SEMO, has completed 48 of his 97 pass attempts for 521 yards and three touchdowns. He has already thrown four interceptions. Ogbanna is the team’s second-leading rusher after gaining 174 yards on 47 carries (3.7 ypc) through the first five games.
Ogbonna’s favorites targets when going to the air have been Terrell Jester (6-0 90, So. WR) and Johnny King (6-4, 180, Sr., WR) who have combined for 23 receptions and 263 yards. Jester leads the team with 12 receptions for 128 yards while King is the leader in yards with 135 after being on the receiving end of 10 passes.
The SEMO defense is being anchored by a quartet of solid players who are all averaging at least four total tackles per game. Bryce Norman (6-0, 220, Fr., LB) is leading the way in his first collegiate season. He has already been credited with 25 (15 solo) tackles, including a team-high of 5.5 tackles for loss.
Lawrence Johnson (6-0, 194, Sr., DB) and Jacob Morrissey (6-0, 205, So., LB) are not far behind. Johnson has tallied 23 (14 solo) stops while Morrissey has been in on 22 (13 solo) stops. Morrissey has also been credited with four TFLs.
Brandon Mincey (6-0, 242, Sr., LB) has 21 (8 solo) tackles, including 4.5 for negative yardage.
Things were looking good for Austin Peay as the Govs were finally getting some national recognition after opening the season by winning two of the first four games. Now they are getting attention for all the wrong reasons after coming up short in their game last week as a failed two-point conversion proved to be the difference in a 24-22 loss to Tennessee State.
Lucky for APSU it was a non-conference tilt and the Govs still have chance to win the OVC title for the second time in three seasons.
Just as long as there is no hangover effect from last week’s loss and the team manages to play this week with a collective chip on its shoulders.
Draylen Ellis (6-0, 175, So., QB) has proven to have all the necessary tools to run the APSU offense. He has completed 119 of his 218 passes for 1,450 yards and five touchdowns this season. He has not one, but two favorite targets whenever going to the air.
Baniko Harley (6-0, 227, Grad., WR) leads the team with 482 receiving yards after hauling in 27 passes. He is averaging a whopping 17.9 yards per catch and has scored five touchdowns. Harley needs just 110 yards to reach 2,000 for his career and his next touchdown will give him 20 in his brilliant career in Clarksville.
Drae McCray (5-8, 176, Fr., WR) has also been brilliant at catching the football in his first collegiate season. He has a team-high 28 receptions for 371 yards and one TD.
Ahmaad Tanner (6-0, 205, Grad., R) has turned in a yeoman’s effort running the ball out of the backfield all season for the Govs. He has rushed 87 times for 391 yards (4.5 ypc) and four touchdowns. His 28-yard run at the end of the first quarter two weeks ago against Eastern Kentucky made him the ninth player in school history to reach 2,000 yards in a career and enters this week’s contest with 2,119 career yards which is the seventh-most in school history. He also ranks 24th among FCS career active leaders.
One troubling aspect about the running game is that after Tanner, production drops off dramatically. C.J. Evans (5-8, 180, So., RB) and Brian Snead (6-1, 212, RS-Jr., RB) have combined for just 236 additional yards from the position. Evans leads that duo with 126 yards on 22 carries (5.7 ypc) while Snead has added 110 yards on 23 carries (4.8 ypc). Each has found the end zone just one time so far.
If either Evans or Snead can become more active in the ground attack it would likely take some of the load off Tanner. It would also cause opposing defenses to spend less time focusing on just one runner.
The Govs boast a trio of defensive standouts who have all recorded at least one game already this season with at least 10 tackles. The latest being Jack McDonald (6-0, 210, Grad., LB) who reached that threshold two weeks ago against Eastern Kentucky.
McDonald has upped his total to 31 (12 solo) tackles this season, including three tackles for loss, heading into Saturday’s clash against the visiting Redhawks. He now has 219 total tackles since the start of the 2019 season and trails only North Dakota State’s Jackson Hankey (226) and Western Carolina’s Ty Harris (225) for the most tackles in the nation over that span.
Koby Perry (6-0, 174, Grad., DB) and Shamari Simmons (5-11, 197, Jr., DB) both tallied 11 tackles in a game earlier this season against Ole Miss. Perry has 30 (21 solo) tackles this season, including 3.5 TFLs
Troy Henderson (5-11, 222, Grad., LB) leads the team with 33 (17 solo) tackles and teammate Terrell Allen (6-0, 275, So., DL) has added 18 (6 solo), including a team-high 5.5 tackles for loss.
OVC Standings (thru games of Oct. 2)
1 – Eastern Illinois 1-0 1-5
2 – SE Missouri 1-1 1-4
Tennessee Tech 1-1 1-4
4 – UT Martin 0-0 3-1
Murray State 0-0 2-2
Austin Peay 0-0 2-3
7 – Tennessee State 0-1 2-3
A native of Bismarck, N.D., Ray is a graduate of North Dakota State University where he began studying athletic training and served as a student trainer for several Bison teams including swimming, wrestling and baseball and was a trainer at the 1979 NCAA national track and field championship meet at the University of Illinois. Ray later worked in the sports information office at NDSU. Following his graduation from NDSU he spent five years in the sports information office at Missouri Western State University and one year in the sports information at Georgia Tech. He has nearly 40 years of writing experience as a sports editor at several newspapers and has received numerous awards for his writing over the years. A noted sports historian, Ray is currently an assistant editor at Amateur Wrestling News.