UT Martin has plans to run on OVC’s best
Posted: Friday, September 30, 2011 12:02 pm
UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson wouldn’t mind if his Skyhawks would run — literally — Tennessee Tech out of Graham Stadium on Saturday night.
He certainly has the personnel to make it happen.
UTM will look to get its second Ohio Valley Conference win of the season with the Golden Eagles bring the league’s first-place team to the Skyhawks’ home turf, with kickoff set at 6:30 p.m.
“That’s a good football team,” Simpson said of Tech. “They’re in first place. They’re probably feeling pretty good about themselves, as they should be. They are multiple on offense, they run some cute wrinkles and they have the best receiver in the conference.
“I’m looking forward to it. It’s another opportunity to win a home game. You have to win at home. You want to win these four home games and then look up and see where you are in middle of October.”
To get another of those all-important early-season home wins, UTM will look to rely on a running game that has been impressive to date. The ground attack was so impressive last week against Murray State, in fact, that two running backs earned OVC honors from national organizations. Jason McNair and Tevin Barksdale picked up awards after each rushed for over 100 yards in the 48-26 win. UTM can also go deep into the depth chart with solid players DJ McNeil and AJ Williams.
Simpson knows that what type of running attack, if there is one at all, will come down to situations and execution.
“You’re able to control the game when you run like that,” Simpson said. “If you can circle the defense, that’s where Jason comes in. We can go up middle with AJ, DJ and Tevin, and we also need to hit some play-action to keep those safeties out of there. So, it’s a cat-and-mouse game, and then you have to block them and they have to tackle you.”
Barksdale, for one, likes his chances against the Eagles.
“Since I’ve been here, I feel that’s the team I perform my best against,” Barksdale said.
The numbers back him up. Looking at last year, Barksdale had a career-best 134 yards on 23 carries with a touchdown.
That game’s outcome continued an odd trend in the series since Simpson has been the head coach — the visiting team has won each of the past five years.
“We have to hold serve,” Simpson pointed out.
The unsung heroes of the Skyhawks’ running attack are players that, individually, were virtual unknowns in the preseason.
The offensive line unit consists of two redshirt freshmen tackles who took their first collegiate snaps in the season-opener at Jacksonville State.
Charles Sweeton and Matt Axline are the freshmen on the left and right sides, respectively
“They have performed well,” offensive line coach Mac Bryan said. “They’re intelligent, and they pick up on things quickly. They have football savvy. Everything comes up is new, but they can learn fast and quick. Mistakes, they don’t make them very often after they’ve seen something.”
Tech will provide a tough test for UTM.
Off to its best start since 2006 at 3-1 overall and 2-0 in the league, Tennessee Tech has a balanced and explosive offense that averages 432 yards — 206 rushing and 225 passing — and 33 points a game.
Junior quarterback Tre Lamb is a solid all-around player who has completed 73-of-102 passes for 873 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions.
His top target is, according to one opposing head coach, the best in the OVC. Tim Benford has 30 catches for 413 yards and three TDs this season. He had six catches for 122 yards and two touchdowns against UTM last year.
Dontey Gay is a multi-talented player who can hurt teams in a variety of ways.
He has 505 yards and seven TDs on 89 carries this year became the first player in Tech history with 100-plus yards rushing and receiving in the same game when he had 146 yards on the ground and 101 yards on seven catches in last week’s 38-31 win over Southeast Missouri.
“The quarterback can run, so you have to account for him,” Simpson said. “They spread you out more than they have in the past, so we have to tackle well in space, and they play with tempo. And, they have the best receiver in the conference. We better know where he is, because he made us look bad last year.”
EXTRA POINTS: Tech leads the series, 20-10-2, with UTM winning 27-24 last season in Cookeville. … Tech veteran head coach Watson Brown is 21-28 in five years at Tech, 115-179-1 in 27 years overall. … The game will be the second of the season — by 30 minutes — in the Sgt. York Trophy series. The series is contested between the OVC’s four schools from Tennessee. The first game in the round-robin season series kicks off at 6 p.m. in Clarksville, where Austin Peay hosts Tennessee State. UTM won the York trophy last year. Published in The WCP 9.29.11