Saturday the Sgt. York Trophy will be on the line when the Tigers of Tennessee State take on the reigning, defending OVC Champions UT Martin. The trophy, named after WWI here Alvin C. York goes to the winner of the season football series between the three football-participating schools in the Ohio Valley Conference- Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UT Martin.
The Skyhawks are currently perched atop the Ohio Valley Conference at 3-0 and return to conference play after a three game stretch of non-conference games- a 65-24 thrashing at the hands of Tennessee, a 55-28 win over Houston Christian and a 44-27 loss to Kennesaw State. The loss to Kennessaw ended a nine-game home winning streak. Turnovers did the Skyhawks , particularly in the second half, with quarterback Dresser Winn completing passes to Kennesaw State defenders 4 times in the second half , which turned into 21 Owls points and was part of 28 consecutive points KSU scored to secure the game. In total Winn threw 5 interceptions on the day. Linebacker Rob Hicks had a record-setting day with 26 tackles, which was not only a high mark at any level of the NCAA but was the second highest mark in OVC history.
Tennessee State holes into the matchup, losers of their last two games, with the most recent in emphatic fashion, a 42-0 throttling at the hands of Southeast Missouri. The Tigers run defense was decimated by the SEMO rushing attack, piling up 310 yards on the ground, with three Redhawks ball carriers running for over 50 -yards- Kevin Robbins (51), Darrell Smith (74) and Gino Hess (136). SEMO quarterback Paxton DeLaurent only missed on one of his 14 pass attempts, threw for a touchdown and did not turn over the football. It was a long day at the office for the TSU offense, particularly quarterback Draylen Ellis, who TSU head coach Eddie George said panicked in the pocket. Ellis only completed 14 of his 35 passes for 104 yards and was sacked three times. Although Devon Starling and Jalen Rouse ran the ball reasonably well, 15 carries for 64 yards for the former and 9 attempts for 51 yards for Rouse, the lopsided nature of the game diminished any impact they might have had.
How UT Martin can win:
As the run game goes, so do the Skyhawks. In UT Martin’s 5 wins they average 273 yards on the ground. Zak Wallace leads the second most potent run game in the OVC with 844 yards on the season and the Skyhawks will lean on him and Sam Franklin who has run for 565 yards on the season. Winn must take care of the football and cannot replicate anything close to the pickfest of the Kennesaw State game. If the Skyhawks defense can get consistent pressure on Ellis, the trust issues that Coach George says his quarterback has in terms of the line’s ability to protect him. If they persist they can rob the Tigers of any offensive continuity and productivity in the same way SEMO was able to do very successfully.
How Tennessee State can win:
In order for Tennessee State to win, the Tigers must win the battle up front on both sides of the ball. Last week they were unable to do that against Southeast Missouri, leading to allowing over 300 yards of rushing and on the other side of the ball, their quarterback being under constant duress. Slowing down the second-most prolific rushing offense in the league would put more of the burden on the passing game, which is also the second-most potent in the conference, averaging 283.8 yards per game, however UTM quarterback DresslerWinn has thrown 7 interceptions over his last three games.
Tennessee State : 17 Tennessee Martin: 27