SKYHAWK FOOTBALL LOOKS TO TAKE NEXT STEP IN 2014
August 24, 2014
2014 Media Guide
MARTIN, Tenn. – The University of Tennessee at Martin football team will go for their fourth winning season in the last five tries in 2014, which is Year Nine of the Jason Simpson Era.
Simpson, the longest tenured head football coach in the Ohio Valley Conference, has tallied five winning seasons at UT Martin – just one behind legendary head coach Bob Carroll for the most in program history.
The Skyhawks begin their season with a historical matchup at Southeastern Conference and Football Bowl Subdivision member Kentucky on Aug. 30. In addition to the game being the first matchup on the gridiron between the Skyhawks and Wildcats, the game will be just the third-ever football game (and first to be shown on a Saturday) on the new SEC Network, which launched on Aug. 14.
Week Two features another difficult road matchup against perennial Southland Conference contender Central Arkansas. The Skyhawks have won three of the last four against the Bears, including a 24-23 victory over the then-No. 7 ranked Central Arkansas squad last year in Martin.
UT Martin then holds its home opener on Sept. 11 against in-state NAIA rival Cumberland. The game – which kicks off a three-game homestand – will be the first meeting between those two squads since 1948.
Back-to-back home games against OVC rivals Eastern Kentucky (Sept. 20) and Southeast Missouri (Sept. 27) follow. UT Martin defeated Eastern Kentucky by a 16-7 margin last season and has won eight of the last nine against Southeast Missouri.
The Skyhawks will then square off against OVC preseason favorite Jacksonville State on Oct. 4. The Gamecocks are currently ranked No. 6 in the Sports Network preseason poll. Four of the last seven games against Jacksonville State have been decided by a field goal or less.
UT Martin then faces its three competitors for the Delta Dental Sgt. York Trophy, hosting Tennessee Tech for a Thursday night matchup on Oct. 9 before traveling to Tennessee State on Oct. 18. The Skyhawks will then close out the home portion of their schedule with a Homecoming matchup against Austin Peay on Oct. 25.
A road game at Murray State opens the month of November before the Skyhawks face their second FBS opponent of the season, Mississippi State of the SEC (Nov. 8). UT Martin’s bye week then follows before a regular season finale against Eastern Illinois, the defending OVC champions.
With its six toughest games arguably all coming away from Hardy Graham Stadium, UT Martin will look to duplicate its road mentality from a year ago. In 2013, the Skyhawks joined the UT Martin teams from 1976, 1988 and 2006 for the most road victories in a season with five.
Simpson believes the strength of his team is 51 upperclassmen, including 12 redshirt seniors who enter their fifth year in the Skyhawk program in 2014.
Both of UT Martin’s top two passers return from 2013 in Jarod Neal and Dylan Favre. Together, the duo split time and combined to complete 62.7 percent of their passes (229-for-365) for 2,610 yards and 18 touchdowns against 12 interceptions. Neal and Favre have been battling for the starting job throughout the spring and fall camp but a starter has not officially been named.
The Skyhawks will have to replace DJ McNeil’s 1,092 rushing yards and seven touchdowns in 2013 but feel the team’s depth at the position will shine through in 2014. Senior Abou Toure rushed for 509 yards as the backup last season, including a pair of 100-yard games (at Eastern Kentucky and at Memphis). Redshirt senior Trent Garland returns as a backfield weapon (four total touchdowns in 2013) while redshirt sophomores Ladevin Fair and Najee Ray as well as redshirt junior Reuben Duckworth will look to contribute. Fair has had a great fall after recovering from a torn ACL that cost him the 2013 season while Ray remains one of the speediest playmakers on the squad. Duckworth is a bruising type of tailback who is a former 1,000 yard rusher in the junior college ranks.
The biggest question mark on the offensive side of the ball is the wide receiver position, as the Skyhawks lose their top four wideouts from 2013. Corey Jordan (13 receptions, 128 yards) and Garland are the only returners to have caught a touchdown pass last season but UT Martin has several players vying for a starting spot. That group includes FBS transfers Kyle Kerrick (Michigan State), Tyriq Patrick (Memphis), Ronald Carswell (West Virginia), Kevin Anderson (Arizona State) and William Tanner (Kentucky). Returning redshirt juniors Ben Axline and Rod Wright have had impressive fall camps while junior college transfer Taylor Higgason has also provided a steady target since last spring. Returners Matt Stewart, James Ratliff and Tyler McPeak have split reps at tight end this fall.
One area of strength on the 2014 Skyhawks should be the offensive line, who led the OVC in least sacks allowed (19) in 2013. The line will be anchored by Preseason All-OVC selection Charles Sweeton (34 straight starts at left tackle). After starting all 33 consecutive career games and seeing time at both guard slots last season, Matt Axline will make the transition to center in 2014. Jackson Roberts (12 starts in 2013) has been hampered by an injury early this fall but is expected to be 100 percent by the season opener. In Roberts’ absence, redshirt freshmen Kadarren Bond and Robert Burleigh have emerged to push for a starting spot. Jordan Murphy and Kenneth Crenshaw are battling to start at left guard and right guard, respectively, while seniors Sam Curtis, John Johnson, Anthony Topps and Dominique Vaughn will be ready to step in and contribute in the event of an injury.
Any and all compliments extended toward the Skyhawk defense gravitate toward senior linebacker Tony Bell. The Preseason All-American has been named College Sports Madness Preseason National Defensive Player of the Year as well as one of 20 finalists for the Sports Network Buck Buchanan Award.
Devontay Barnett has also developed into one of the team’s leaders on defense, as he has had one of the best fall preseasons of any Skyhawk. Redshirt junior Marquis Clemons is expected to claim the other starting linebacker spot while Western Michigan transfer Nick Dance joins returners Deilouse Jackson and Caleb Counce in a competition for playing time.
Ryan Isom (nine starts in 2013), Keith Jones (five starts in 2014) and Deantae Glover have emerged as potential starters on the defensive line. Matt Murphy, Tyler Sweeden and Dean Wathen return in 2014 while true freshman Jay Murphy has joined a group of impressive performers so far this fall.
The defensive backfield is headed by senior Leon Carlton III, who started all 12 games at safety last season. Taino Fears-Perez returns in 2014 to claim a starting spot while Khalid Hagens has seamlessly made the transition from quarterback to safety. The trio of Brian Isaac, Walter Evans and Tae Martin will also vie for a starting gig. Jordan Landry appears ready to step in as a starting cornerback while junior college transfer Jaquille White has been one of the team’s most reliable cornerbacks this fall. Aaron Simms and Justin Jackson have also shown significant improvement over the duration of fall camp.
On special teams, James Satterfield (17 punts of 50-plus yards over the past two seasons) returns at punter while Jackson Redditt (33-for-33 PAT’s, 12 field goals in 2013) will also provide the Skyhawks with another consistent leg.