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UTM rested, ready for Jax State visit

UTM rested, ready for Jax State visit
Special to The Messenger
It has been a long — but successful — season for the UT Martin football team and the bye week was a welcome breather for the Skyhawks as they prepare to face Jacksonville State on Saturday at Hardy Graham Stadium.
The Skyhawks had played a grueling eight consecutive weeks before last week’s break, but UTM has had a lot of success in that two-month span.
The Skyhawks are sharing first place in the Ohio Valley Conference at 4-1 along with Tennessee State and Eastern Illinois.
Head coach Jason Simpson said the break was needed before his team plays this last stretch of three conference games to close out the regular season.
“Hopefully, the off week came at a good time,” he said. “We needed an open week no matter what the conference race was about. We had three and a half weeks in camp and eight straight weeks of playing.
“Guys were just physically and mentally tired. It came at a good time.”
Even senior quarterback Derek Carr got a chance to get some rest. He did not throw a pass last week, a first for him at the collegiate level.
“It was the first time, I think, since he’s been here that he didn’t throw a pass all week,” Simpson said about the quarterback. “He gets all the reps in practice, and that’s a lot of balls to throw over the course of a week, which grows over eight weeks.”
Simpson wanted to give his shoulder a much-needed break after eight weeks of football.
“We wanted to give him time to rest his shoulder because, as the season grinds on, that football can become as big as a basketball,” Simpson said about his senior quarterback.
The McKenzie native has completed 180-of-280 passes for 2,176 yards with 17 touchdowns and seven interceptions in what has been a record-breaking season.
Carr is not used to being on the sideline during practice and watching the other quarterbacks get reps.
Having last Saturday off, Carr and offensive lineman Michael Pope decided to take in the Alabama game at Tuscaloosa.
“I went to Tuscaloosa with Michael Pope to watch Alabama and Mississippi State in the Mississippi State student section,” Carr said. “We didn’t know it was going to be as cold as it was, but Pope’s got a friend at Alabama and we were able to sit in the MSU section wearing Alabama gear. That was interesting.”
As interesting as that was for the two Skyhawks, they and the rest of the team have something a little more interesting to do on Saturday and that is play Jacksonville State.
The Skyhawks lost to the Gamecocks last season, along with their final two opponents on the schedule — Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State. Right now, the Skyhawks have to take care of the Gamecocks.
Simpson said the main focus is on his team.
“We’ve got some important games coming up, but our main focus this week is us,” he said. “The guys all know how important these games are for us, but these three teams were three of the four teams that beat us last year in games that we had a chance to win and win the conference.”
Jacksonville State will not be an easy task.
The Gamecocks may be coming into Hardy Graham Stadium with a 5-3 overall record and 1-3 on the road, but they are the only team to beat perennial conference powerhouse Eastern Kentucky in league play.
“Our opponent does a nice job of taking things away from you and making you one dimensional,” Simpson said. “If it takes us running the ball 50 times then that is what we will go into this game and do. If you are going to let us throw the ball around all day then that is what we will do as well.”
UTM is not only trying to win the OVC and get an automatic berth into the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs. The Skyhawks will also be playing to win the Sgt. York Trophy, which is awarded to the team that has the most wins against each other from the four Tennessee teams in the OVC.
UT Martin already has a win over Austin Peay and will next close the regular season at Tennessee Tech on Nov. 10 and at home against Tennessee State on Nov. 17. Published in The Messenger 11.1.12