Tennessee State continues its journey through the Ohio Valley Conference schedule with a trip to Murray, Kentucky, to take on the Racers of Murray State Saturday.
After starting the season 0-4, Tennessee State (3-4, 2-0 OVC) has bounced back with three straight wins, the most recent being a 37-17 home victory over Eastern Illinois last week.
Quarterback Draylen Ellis had season highs in attempts, completions, yards, and passing touchdowns, as he completed 27 of 36 passes for 309 yards and three touchdowns. TSU head coach Eddie George was very complimentary of his starting quarterback, saying on a recent OVC media call that “he’s throwing the ball with a lot more confidence, he is processing faster, understanding where pressures coming from and where to go with the football immediately.”
Ellis has displayed an ability to know where and when to get the football out, connecting with ten different receivers, with four — Da’Shon Davis, J.J. Holloman, Devon Starling, and John Roberts IV — racking up more than 50 yards. Starling had his best game since returning from injury, in addition to 58 receiving yards and a score. He also ran for 58 yards on 14 carries.
The Tennessee State defense continued its solid play against Eastern Illinois last Saturday, allowing only 17 points the entire game and sacking EIU quarterbacks six times while recording nine tackles for a loss. Junior defensive lineman Terrell Allen led the way with six tackles, three of them for losses, and a pair of sacks.
Murray State limps into this contest looking for its first win of the season, as the Racers are in the throes of an 8-game losing streak.
The Racers fell 33-18 to OVC newcomer Lindenwood last week. After getting off to a strong start, scoring 12 first-quarter points, Murray could only generate 6 points over the last three quarters. The Murray State passing game was inept last week, with Racer signal callers completing 11 of 25 passes for just 98 yards. The run game was prolific, however, racking a season-high 292 yards, with redshirt sophomore running back Damomta Witherspoon leading the charge with his best effort on the year, accounting for 157 yards on 28 carries. The Murray State defense surrendered 33 points to the Lions, which was the second-fewest an opponent has scored against the squad on the season.
Why Tennessee State will win
Murray State’s defense has been the most offensive user friendly in the OVC, ranking last in scoring defense (42.6 ppg), total defense ( 520.0 yards per game), and run defense (231.8 yards per game). Devon Starling and Jalen Rouse will be able to run freely through the gaping holes the TSU offensive line will create.
Coach George said in this week’s media conference call that Ellis, who threw for 309 yards last week, “could have had, you know, maybe close to 400 yards passing had he hit on a couple of the other passes. One play was called back because of a penalty, and that, you know, you could have had a 350 or a 400-yard day.”
The Racers are also the third-worst pass defense in the conference, giving up 288.2 yards per contest, meaning there will be an abundance of opportunities to rectify the and capitalize upon those openings, as they will be abundant with the assistance of the porous Murray State defense. The Tennessee State defense has been opportunistic, particularly over the past two games, where the unit has forced seven turnovers. The Racers have an 8-turnover ratio on the season. TSU’s mantra of “do your job” will lead to multiple forced turnovers leading to points for the Tigers.
Why Murray State will win
Tennessee State has a big game next week against Southeast Missouri. For Murray State, the hope will be they will catch Tennessee State peeking 168 hours into the future, and the Racers will be able to take advantage of a potential lapse in focus on the task at hand.
Murray State will have to keep the game close and low scoring. The Racers rank last in the OVC, averaging 12.4 points per game, nearly ten points less than the second-worst offense in the league. If the Racers can keep the game close, the pressure will mount on Tennessee State, and that could lead to mistakes, which Murray will have to take advantage of.
The irresistible force meets the very movable object. Murray State cannot score sufficiently, stop anyone on defense, and has a penchant for turning the football over. All of these factors will contribute to Murray State’s first win of the season to wait at least one more week.
Tennessee State 35, Murray State 13.
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