By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. – With Southeast Missouri coming into town on Saturday for this week's football game at Tucker Stadium, the Tennessee Tech squad is ready to end its current four-game slide.
Through a rough stretch to open the 2021 campaign, there has been progress along the way. Now the Golden Eagles will try to apply that toward a victory on Saturday against the Redhawks.
Kickoff is slated for 1:35 p.m. Central. Roger Ealey and Frank Harrell will provide the call for 98.5 KISS FM, while Dylan Vazzano and Sam Brooks will handle broadcast duties on ESPN+ (subscription required).
The biggest positive from last week's Ohio Valley Conference opener against Eastern Illinois was the offense coming alive for big yardage. That's definitely a trend the Golden Eagles would like see continue this week against the Redhawks.
The 379 yards of total offense was the most the Golden Eagles had recorded since picking up 400 yards against Murray State in the spring campaign – a seven-game span, despite it being earlier in the year. Quarterback Drew Martin, in his first career start, threw for 315 yards on 26-for-38 passing with a touchdown pass to Quinton Cross breaking up a 10-quarter scoring drought.
Martin's game was the best first-start performance since John Conrad McCrary against Tennessee State in 2005, throwing for 324 yards.
Cross also ended the game with 140 receiving yards, the most for a Tech receiver since Metrius Fleming hauled in 165 against Western Illinois in 2019. It was Cross' second 100-yard game in his career.
For the game, Tech outgained EIU by a good margin, 379-304. However, it was turnovers that shifted the momentum of the contest with three of the last four drives ended in lost fumbles. That's a concerning factor with the Redhawks coming into Saturday's game leading the conference in turnover margin – the only team in the league with a positive rating with six gained (two fumbles and four interceptions) and five lost (two fumbles and three interceptions).
The Redhawks, however, have also given up the most yardage in the league. SEMO is currently last in the league in total defense, has given up the most touchdowns with 21 is allowing an average of 513.8 yards per game. Tech, in contrast, has allowed 18 scores and an average of 391.8 yards per game to rank fourth in the OVC.
To be fair, the statistic also has to be put in perspective. While the Golden Eagles have faced a tough start of the year with Samford, Furman, Tennessee and Eastern Illinois last week, the Redhawks' schedule is arguably tougher with No. 7 Southern Illinois, No. 1 Sam Houston, Southeastern Conference foe Missouri and Tennessee State in the first four weeks.
SEMO (1-3, 1-0 OVC) claimed its first win of the season against Eddie George's Tigers, caging them 47-14. Kicker Kenny Doak accounted for 17 of the points, kicking four field goals – from 33, 40, 39 and 45 respectively – and five PATs. Geno Hess also rushed for three touchdowns and 205 yards on 25 carries.
Hess has five touchdown runs and is averaging 100.2 yards per game with 401 yards on 71 carries for the season to pace the OVC's top rushing offense. In the spring contest, however, Hess was held to 89 yards and a score on 18 carries, so the Golden Eagles have found ways to contain him before.
But don't think for a second that the Redhawks are completely run-heavy on offense. SEMO quarterback C.J. Ogbonna threw for 227 yards and a touchdown on 14-of-23 passing last week.
Ogbonna has thrown for 495 yards on the year with three touchdowns, completing 43 of 83 passes. Rashaan Palmer has 119 yards on five catches to lead in yardage, while Aaron Alston, Terrell Jester and Will Weidemann each have six catches.
Defensively, on the ground, SEMO ranks fourth in rush defense with a 159.8-yard average, allowing 639 yards and eight touchdowns. Tech is third, allowing a 148.8-yard average with 595 yards and nine ground scores.
Through the air, the Redhawks rank seventh in pass defense, allowing 354.0 yards per game for a total of 1,416 yards and 13 touchdowns. Tech is fifth, allowing 243.0 per game for a total of 972 yards and nine scores.
But with teams trying to pass more on them, SEMO has also been able to convert with four interceptions – one fewer than league-leader UT Martin. The Redhawks have also been able to slow down opponents in the red zone to a degree, ranking second in the conference in red zone defense at 76.5 percent. Opponents have been successful 13-of-17 times in the red zone, with 11 touchdowns and three field goals. The four shutdowns included a fumble recovery, a missed field goal and two turnovers-on-downs.
The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, have four of the top fourteen tacklers in the conference. Josh Reliford ranks second with 34 stops (an average of 8.5 per game), Jamal Boyd with 25 (6.2), Seth Carlisle with 24 (6.0) and Jack Warwick with 23 (5.8).
Tickets for Saturday's game are on sale – call (931) 372-3940, visit the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visit TTUsports.com.
Photo | Christian Murphy