UTM still trying to find successful travel plan
Posted: Friday, October 21, 2011 12:03 pm
By KEVIN WEAKS
UT Martin is not where it should be. Now, the Skyhawks need to do something they haven’t been able to do.
UTM’s football team will look for its first road win of the season this week when it travels to Charleston, Ill., to serve as Eastern Illinois’ homecoming date Saturday. Kickoff is 1:30 p.m.
For a Skyhawk team that was a homecoming opponent in Mobile, Ala., last week — a 33-30 loss to South Alabama — the long trip and pageantry that comes with it will become more so in the next month.
Winning under those circumstances, however, is not.
UTM is 3-3 overall and 2-2 in the Ohio Valley Conference in large part because it has not been able to win on the road. To make a run in the second half of the 2011 season and stay in the OVC race, the Skyhawks will have to do just that.
“We’re 0-2 on the road right now, so we have to figure it out,” UTM head coach Jason Simpson. “We’ve never beaten Eastern Illinois on road. We have to win on the road. You are what your record is. We can pat ourselves on back that the three losses have been by seven points, but the reality is we’re 3-3 and 2-2 in the conference. So, we have to figure out a way to win ugly on road. We need to play an ugly game, figure out how to hold together and make the plays at the end.”
Simpson and his team better figure it out, and soon. After making the second half of a 700-mile road trip in the span of seven days, the Skyhawks will play one more home game and then hit the road for the final three weeks of the season.
Don’t look for the Panthers to become that first victim without a fight.
Despite a 1-6 overall record and 0-5 conference mark, EIU has been competitive in four of those six losses. The Panthers lost by 11 points to Tennessee Tech (31-20), seven points to Jacksonville State (28-21) and SEMO (37-30) and nine points last week to Murray State (36-27).
“We’re playing a football team that’s 1-6, but there’s not a lot different between us and them,” Simpson said. “(Murray State) is a game they probably felt they had chance to win. The Jacksonville State game, too. So, we’re fooling ourselves if we think this is a game where records mean anything.”
A win for UTM could come down to the running game, where EIU has struggled on both sides of the ball. The Panthers average just 78.7 yards offensively and allow 259.4 on the defensive end. That could help one Skyhawk, in particular, get back on track.
After back-to-back 100-yard games against Union College and Murray State, Jason McNair has seen his production go down in each of the last three games. He had 82 yards on 19 against Tennessee Tech, followed by 54 yards on 15 carries vs. Austin Peay and 37 yards on seven tries last week.
“We have to get Jason going,” Simpson said. “It’s been three weeks in a row. We have to get ball in his hands in space, but there are times when he’s getting ball and not getting yards.”
The Panthers are better at passing the ball. Jimmy Garoppolo has thrown for 1,724 yards and 14 touchdowns. He has five receivers with 10 or more catches and six with over 100 receiving yards, led by Kenny Whittaker with 35 catches for 353 yards.
EXTRA POINTS: EIU head coach Bob Spoo is retiring at the end of the season. He has spent his entire 25 years as a head coach at EIU, posting a 143-128-1 overall record. His 67 wins in the OVC are fourth all-time in the conference. … UTM is the nation’s best team in red zone offense. The Skyhawks has scored 97 percent of the time after reaching it opponents’ 20-yard-line. Published in The WCP 10.20.11