NASHVILLE, Tenn. – On Saturday, the Tennessee State football team will take the field for the first time in 2014 against Edward Waters College for the 16th annual John Merritt Classic.
The Tigers are coming off one of the best seasons since joining the Ohio Valley Conference. TSU finished the year 10-4 and reached the second round of the FCS Playoffs. Tennessee State returns six starters on both sides of the ball and looks to repeat as HBCU National Champions.
For Edward Waters, the Tigers return 12 starters from a 2-9 season in 2013 as an independent member of the NAIA division of college football. EWC was the third best team, nationally, in pass defense per game (136.9 yards). However, the team gave up 31 rushing touchdowns in only 11 games and was the second-most penalized, surrendering 101.4 yards per contest. EWC is already 1-0, having defeated University of Faith, 65-10.
Three Keys to the Game:
Last season, Tennessee State had one of the top defenses in FCS ranking sixth nationally in total defense (296.9 yards/game) and scoring defense (18.1 points/game) and ninth nationally in turnovers gained (31) last season. That defensive unit is led by reigning OVC Defensive Player of the Year Anthony Bass who was also tabbed this year's Preseason Defensive Player of the Year; in 2013 Bass had 34 tackles, 14.5 tackles-for-loss and 10.0 sacks. TSU’s run defense will be especially important Saturday, as EWC runs the triple-option – a three running back system.
Who’s Got the Rock?
One player’s dream of being the starting running back for TSU will come true on Saturday after Tim Broughton graduated and Telvin Hooks was sidelined with an injury last winter. Vying to win the coveted spot is sophomore Tevin Spells who impressed coaches as a freshman, but had to wait his turn. He had just 85 yards on 18 carries a year ago. Senior Martine Stevenson is another option following his position change from cornerback to halfback. The speedy Stevenson returned a kickoff for a touchdown last year at FAMU, but just has nine career carries – all during his freshman season. Another back to keep an eye on is Tom Smith, a University of Tennessee transfer, who totaled 67 yards on six touches in the Spring Game. TSU also added Mizzou transfer Greg White and Michigan grad student Stephen Hopkins. A strong running game should help TSU keep possession and keep EWC’s offense off of the field.
Last season, Tennessee State used a platoon system at quarterback with Ronald Butler and Mike German. While Butler had a breakout stellar campaign en route to making the All-OVC Newcomer Team, German was more effective. The rising redshirt senior completed 60 percent of his passes and tossed 13 touchdowns without a single interception. German was the only FCS player to throw at least 13 scores without a pick a year ago. Limiting turnovers is a hallmark for any effective offense, so hanging onto the ball on Saturday is a must.
Tennessee State will kickoff the 2014 season at 6 p.m. on Saturday night at LP Field against the Tigers of Edward Waters College.
Please tweet your football questions to @tsu_tigers between now and Tuesday for a chance to have them answered by head coach Rod Reed in a video interview next week!