Saturday Eddie George and the Tigers of Tennessee State University seek to end this uneven season with a win when they face Texas A&M Commerce.
The Lions come in to the matchup coming off a tough 12-10 loss in a defensive struggle against Nichols State. Commerce scored 10 points in the first quarter and was shut out the rest of the game. The Lions defense only gave up 10 points, which came in the second and third quarters respectively, but it was ultimately a safety that came from a sack of quarterback Jaiave Magalei that proved to be the deciding score.
From an offensive standpoint, TAMC averages 29.0 ppg toping the 40-point mark three times on the season. On the ground, Commerce averages 136.1 yards per game is largely done by committee, with three Lions running backs recording at least 40 carries, lead by freshman Reggie Branch with 227 yards on the season. Led by quarterback Eric Rodriguez, who has completed 62.9% of his passes for 1523 yards, 16 touchdowns and 6 interceptions, the passing game produces 224 yards per game through the air. Leading receiver Andrew Armstrong has racked up 983 yards and 13 touchdowns and is by far the Lions biggest threat; Armstrong has more receiving yards than the best four leading pass catchers on the team, combined.
TAMC has the number 1 defense in the Southland Conference, as they allowed 29.7 points per contest this season; the Lions are also first in interceptions, having picked off 14 opposition passes and third in sacks with 20.
Tennessee State hobbles into the contest losers of three straight games. Over the course of this three-game slide, they Tigers have been outscored 81-6 and have not scored a touchdown in 12 quarters. The running game that has been the foundation of the bit of success TSU enjoyed over a three-game winning streak that proceeded this skid, has been rendered largely inept and only broke the 100-yard threshold just once in the past three contest. The struggles of the offensive line has also coincided with the descent in the level of play of quarterback Draylen Ellis. The junior signal caller has been under duress the past three games, and this has contributed to Ellis completing just 52/107 passes for 495 yards no touchdowns and 3 interception, the later matching his total from the previous six games he appeared in this season.
I has also been a rough stretch for the TSU defense, they were a sieve against the run versus Murray State, allowing 194 yards and failing to get key stops. Southeast Missouri put boots the unit, dropping 42 points, 459 yards of offense, 310 of which came on the ground. The most recent defeat, a 20-3 loss at the hands of the Skyhawks of UT Martin, was actually their best effort of the past the ball games, but even in this contest they surrendered 183 yards of offense and was on the field for 76 snaps.
How Texas A&M Commerce can win:
The Lions will need to get to pressure on Ellis to make him uncomfortable, which will sow those seeds of distrust in the ability of the TSU offensive line to protect him. With Ellis uncomfortable it will make establishing an offensive rhythm extremely difficult, and it will also foster an environment for miscues, which the Lions defense will be ready to take advantage off. Getting a lead early can force TSU to put their run game on the back burner, even if Starling and Rouse are running well.
Why Tennessee State can win:
The offense and defensive lines for Tennessee State will have to show up, not only on the offensive side, to keep Ellis upright and open up lanes for Starling and Rouse, but defensively to slow down the run and get pressure on Rodriguez. TAMC only allows 3.9 yards per carry on the season so TSU will have to commit to the run , which will help the line and Ellis to get comfortable and into a rhythm. Draylen Ellis will have to look more like the quarterback we saw in the three game winning streak, where he completed 51/82 passes for 694 yards, 6 touchdowns and only 1 interception. TSU will have to slow down Armstrong by rolling more coverage over to him and making the other receivers to try and beat them.
Tennessee State : 13 Texas A&M Commerce : 31