NASHVILLE- Tenn. – Tennessee State remained undefeated on the season (one of just four FCS teams perfect on the year) with a 40-28 road victory at Southeast Missouri last week. The Tigers take the record and a national ranking to Jacksonville State for a key matchup on Saturday. The game is part of the OVC Game of the Week TV package.
Tennessee State is now 7-0 and off to its best start since 1999, when the team was a perfect 11-0 in the regular season and ascended to No. 1 in the national polls. Entering this week the Tigers are ranked 17 in the Sports Network poll and 18th in the FCS Coaches poll. In its win over SEMO on Saturday, the Tigers never trailed by used several big plays when the game got close.
With SEMO driving late in the third quarter down just six points, sophomore Steven Godbolt III intercepted a pass (just the second time this season SEMO had been picked off) and returned it 62 yards to the Southeast 26-yard line. Five players later junior running back Trabis Ward scored his second of four touchdowns to push the Tigers to a 12-point advantage. Ward scored three of his touchdowns in the fourth quarter and finished the game with 267 yards (the fourth-most in the FCS this year) on 43 carries (the most by a player in the FCS this year). Ward now ranks sixth nationally in rushing (129.71 yards/game) and second in scoring (11.14 points/game).
The win was the first at Southeast Missouri for the Tigers since the 1999 season, breaking a five-game losing streak in Cape Girardeau. Despite allowing its most points of the season (28) to Southeast, TSU still ranks 13th nationally in scoring defense (16.43 points/game) and is the only OVC team in the Top 50 nationally in total defense (48th, 350.14 yards/game).
Jacksonville State is facing an important game, as a loss would give the team three OVC losses and pretty much eliminate them from OVC title contention. The Gamecocks committed five turnovers, missed three field goals and ran out of time to attempt a game-tying field goal in a 31-28 loss at Eastern Illinois on Saturday.
The Gamecocks were impressive on the ground, rushing for 290 yards as a team, 149 of those yards coming from Washaun Ealey, who had three rushing touchdowns; Ealey was the first player to rush for 100 yards against EIU this season. The JSU defense was also able to limit the potent Panther offensive attack, holding them to 381 total yards, nearly 140 yards less than their season average (which ranks second nationally). Jax State held Eastern without points for the first 21:15 of the game, 6:59 longer than any other opponent this season. Junior Rashad Smith led the team with 13 tackles, his second double-digit tackle output of the season.
As a team JSU ranks sixth nationally in third down conversion percentage (51.11%) and eighth in punt return yardage defense (2.67).
Jacksonville State has won six of the seven all-time meetings with TSU, including the last three. The last time Tennessee State won was in 2006, a 38-31 victory in Jacksonville. The teams did not play in 2007 or 2008. In 2008, TSU was 8-2 (5-1 OVC) and ranked 16th nationally when they played at JSU, only to lose 26-21 on a touchdown run by Calvin Middleton with 13 seconds to play. Last year the two teams closed out the season against each other win the Gamecocks winning 38-16 to claim a share of the OVC Championship. In that game JSU’s Coty Blanchard completed 14-of-18 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns and rushed for 38 yards and another score. Jax State rushed for 190 total yards while holding TSU to 87 total yards on the ground.
The game is scheduled for 11 a.m. and will be available live on Fox College Sports. The game will also air delayed on FOX Sports South at 10 p.m. CT that night. Click the link to find Fox College Sports in your area, http://fcs.channelfinder.net/start.asp