By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
LAWRENCE, Kan. – The first game is in the books, and while the Tennessee Tech squad saw a tough contest against their annual Football Bowl Subdivision opponent, the Golden Eagles still saw some signs of optimism against the Kansas Jayhawks on Friday night.
Kansas took the victory 56-10, scoring four touchdowns in its first five possessions. Still, Tech was able to stall the Jayhawks on the Golden Eagle 2-yard line and force a turnover on downs on the goal-line stand. Kansas (1-0) also missed a field goal on its first possession of the second half.
"Hats off to Lance Leipold and the Kansas Jayhawks – they've got the right guy here and you watch their film from last year and they just got better and better and better," said Tech head coach Dewayne Alexander. "Tonight, they didn't have a penalty in the first half, they played very physical up front on both sides of the ball.
"On the other hand, we didn't make them earn a lot of the scores they got, we had special teams errors that gave them a short field and they were on our end a lot early. Once we settled down, we were able to slow them down on some fourth-down stops. Overall, the effort was there and we're not going to quit. We got a score late and was able to recover a fumble late and finished the game strong."
Josh Reliford, one of the team's defensive leaders, saw the game as a learning opportunity.
"We're disappointed," he said, "but there was nothing tonight that we can't fix. I'd tell my teammates that this game is over, let's move on to the next one and focus on what we're still trying to do."
Alexander continued, "We have a great group of young men and to come in here against a Big 12 opponent, it's a challenge, but we still have a good football team. These guys know it and next week, you're going to see an excited team that's going to play hard. A lot of what happened out there is correctable. I believe in this team, so I can't wait to get these guys out in front of our fans."
Tech (0-1) did create three turnovers to win that battle. Jacquez McGowan intercepted Kansas started Jalon Daniels midway through the third quarter, then Aaron Swafford recovered a fumble he forced to give the Golden Eagle offense one last try at the end zone before the contest ended. The special teams unit also created a takeaway as Cameron Hudson recovered a muffed kick in the first quarter.
The first two drives for the Golden Eagles ended quickly as Kansas' defense was stifling. Tech was able to get something together to move the ball 42 yards into Jayhawk territory, but Devin Parker's 50-yard field goal try was blocked by Jereme Robinson. The block was returned all the way to the other end of the field for a touchdown by Cobee Bryant.
Tech got on the board just under a minute into the second quarter as Parker connected from 28 yards out. Parker had another opportunity with 4:34 remaining in the third quarter as the interception led to a 29-yard drive to the Jayhawk 10, but the 27-yard try failed.
With 9:46 remaining in the contest, the Golden Eagles started its best drive of the contest. Eating up 4:46 on the clock and traversing 75 yards on nine plays, Tech got its touchdown with five minutes remaining as Jeremiah Oatsvall pitched the ball to Heath Price and the H-back raced around the edge fot a four-yard pickup for the score.
After Swafford recovered a fumble, Tech started one last drive on the Kansas 37 with 4:08 remaining. O.J. Ross, Quinton Cross and Justin Pegues was able to move the Golden Eagles up into striking distance, but a false start penalty forced a clock run-off that saw zeroes fill the time.
Tech finished the game with 190 yards of offense against the FBS opponent, rushing for 93 net yards and passing for 97. Jeremiah Oatsvall ran for a team-high 42 yards on 12 carries, while also completing 10 of his 18 passes for 76 yards. David Gist rushed for 34 yards on 16 carries. Willie Miller led the Tech wideouts with three catches for 28 yards, while Metrius Fleming and Ross each had 21 yards.
Kansas native Lem Wash completed five of his eight pass attempts for 21 yards. Oatsvall and Wash were sacked a combined five times in the contest.
Daniels was 15-for-18 for 189 yards through the air, including 15-for-16 in the first half, while Devin Neal rushed for 108 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 27.0 yards per carry on his four totes. Five Kansas players rushed for a touchdown in the game.
Seth Carlisle, Josh Reliford and Daniel Rickert led the Golden Eagles in tackles with five stops each, while Lonnie Phelps led Kansas with seven tackles, three sacks for 19 yards and four tackles-for-loss for 21 yards.
The Golden Eagles return to action next Saturday as they open up their home slate with a visit from Texas A&M-Commerce. The program is entering its first season on the Division I FCS level and is making its first appearance against the Golden Eagles since the two teams faced each other in the 1953 Tangerine Bowl. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tickets are available by calling (931) 372-3940, visiting the Hooper Eblen Center ticket office or visiting TTUsports.com.
Photo | Ryan Weaver