Skyhawks prepare for tough Tennessee State team on Saturday

The Skyhawk football team finished step one of three for retaining the Sgt. York Trophy by defeating Tennessee Tech 44-23 at Graham Stadium this past Saturday.

Step two, and arguably the toughest test for the Skyhawks so far this season, will be to go on the road into a hostile environment and try to pull out a win over a tough Tennessee State football team.

The Skyhawks (2-2, 1-0 OVC) picked up their first Ohio Valley Conference win on Saturday, and in the process gained a leg up in the yearly Sgt. York Trophy Series, a traveling trophy that goes to the best overall OVC team from the state of Tennessee (Austin Peay, Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and UTM).

Offensively, the Skyhawks got a great performance from redshirt junior quarterback Troy Cook, who completed nine of his 16 passes for 223 yards and two touchdowns.  However, the Skyhawks were lacking in the running game, only picking up a combined 97 yards on the ground.

“Offensively, [we were] not very good,” said UTM head coach Jason Simpson.  “You’ve got to give [Tennessee Tech] credit up front, nobody up front played well.  That was probably one of the worst games we’ve played offensively in a long, long time.”

Defensively, despite giving up 378 yards of total offense, the Skyhawks held Tennessee Tech to just nine points in the first three quarters before allowing two late touchdowns.  The defense also scored on a late pick-6 touchdowns by Julian Thompson-Clay as time expired in the fourth quarter.

“I thought our defense played well,” said Simpson.  “We were able to stuff the run with the exception of a few scrambles by the quarterback and when they threw the football we were able to rush three guys.”

With one conference game in the book, the Skyhawks will now focus their attention on Tennessee State, led by the second longest tenured coach in the OVC, Rod Reed.

Tennessee State (3-0) will be without starting quarterback O’Shay Ackerman-Carter, after he suffered a season-ending injury during the Tigers’ 31-24 win over Bethune-Cookman two weeks ago.  Senior quarterback Ronald Butler replaced Ackerman-Carter at quarterback during that game, and is expected to get the start on Saturday.

Butler started against the Skyhawks in his freshman year and completed 11-0f-19 for 160 yards and one touchdown.  Since then, Butler has played against the Skyhawks, but as a backup.  TSU had a bye week last week, so that will give the Tigers an extra week to get used to the new quarterback.

The Skyhawks will also be challenged to shut down Tennessee State’s leading rusher Erick Evans and leading wide receiver Patrick Smith.  So far this season, Evans has rushed for 215 yards and three touchdowns, while Smith has caught 14 passes for 189 yards and three touchdowns.  The Skyhawks will also have the task of going against a tough TSU defense that has held opponents to 234 yards of total offense per game, and an offensive line that hasn’t allowed a sack yet this season.

“We’ve got some concerns,” said Simpson.  “I’m sitting here going through things in my head to try to get things down for practice today and to put a game plan together and give our guys a chance to be successful this week.”

TSU leads the all-time series over UTM 15-10. However, the Skyhawks are 6-3 against Tennessee State during Coach Simpson’s tenure at UTM.  The Skyhawks have won the last two games over Tennessee State, but have never won three straight games in the series.

Kickoff between the Skyhawks and the Tigers is scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1 from Hale Stadium in Nashville.  The game will also be streamed on ESPN3 and on the WatchESPN app.

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