MARTIN, Tenn. – Jason Simpson, the seventh-year head football coach at The University of Tennessee at Martin, knows the Skyhawks’ homecoming opponent, Eastern Illinois, will score a lot of points.
“We cannot match them point wise, so, we are going to have to match them with our defense,” Simpson said. “We need to control the game and keep the score in the 30’s.”
This is the 18th meeting between UT Martin and Eastern Illinois and it marks the second consecutive week the Skyhawks will play at Hardy M. Graham Stadium.
The matchup features an EIU team which ranks third nationally in scoring offense (47.2 points/game) against a UTM team which is 19th nationally in scoring defense (18.4 points/game).
EIU holds a 12-5 advantage all-time in the series but UT Martin has won each of the last two years and three of the last four overall. Last season the Skyhawks pulled out a 24-23 win in Charleston behind 111 rushing yards from running back Jason McNair and a pair of touchdown passes from Derek Carr to Quentin Sims. Jimmy Garoppolo threw for 294 yards and three touchdowns in the loss for the Panthers.
Eastern Illinois has already won more games this season (3) than in each of the past two years and with a win on Saturday would equal its combined win total over the past two years (4).
First-year head coach Dino Babers has the Panthers offense ranked second nationally in passing offense (400.6 yards/game) and third in both total offense (522.8 yards/game) and scoring offense (47.2 points/game). The team racked up 65 points (the eighth time in school history the team had scored 60 or more in a game) and 671 yards of total offense in a win over Austin Peay on Saturday. It marked the third straight game the team has scored 50 or more points. Garoppolo continues to impress, throwing for a career-high 453 yards and five touchdowns (all over 50 yards in length) and rushing for another score. He currently ranks second nationally in points responsible for (23.6/game), total offense (369.4 yards/game) and total passing yards (1,827), third in passing yards/game (365.4) and fifth in completions (28.2/game). Through just five games this season he has 18 touchdown passes, just 17 away from tying Tony Romo’s OVC record. Erik Lora had his fifth-straight 100-plus yard receiving game (139), while Chris Wright added 137 yards receiving and two scores and freshman Keiondre Gober had 132 yards and two touchdowns in his EIU debut.
UT Martin suffered its first loss of the season to a FCS opponent, losing 28-16 at home to No. 19 Eastern Kentucky. The Skyhawks led the Colonels 16-7 midway through the third quarter but saw EKU’s Tyrone Goard catch three touchdown passes over the final 17:31 to win the game. Carr passed for 223 yards in the game, becoming UTM’s all-time leading passer (6,300 yards); he is now just 93 yards out of 10th place in OVC history. Sims pulled down seven catches for 64 yards in the game; he now leads the Skyhawks with 36 receptions for 444 yards on the season. Junior Jeremy Butler had a 62-yard reception during the game, the longest for the team this season; Barfield also had 109 yards in kickoff returns to account for 146 all-purpose yards on the day. Junior linebacker Ben Johnson took over the OVC lead in tackles/game, registering 12 tackles in the loss which was his fourth-straight game with double-digit tackles; Johnson now ranks ninth nationally in tackles/game (11.40).