MARTIN, Tenn. – Jason Simpson, the seventh-year head football coach at The University of Tennessee at Martin, says his Skyhawks still control their own destiny despite Saturday’s opposition, perennial power Jacksonville State.
The Gamecocks will travel to UT Martin for a key game in the OVC race on Saturday. The host Skyhawks are currently in a three-way tie for first place in the OVC (with Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State) while the Gamecocks are just one game back in the standings.
Jacksonville State leads the all-time series with UT Martin 27-6 including a 24-23 victory a season ago. Overall JSU has won three in a row and 9 of 11 in the series. That game a year ago came down to the final minute as Jax State went 50 yards in 3:49 as Calvin Middleton rushed for a 4-yard score with 38 seconds to go. The Skyhawks were able to march down to the JSU 15-yard line but time expired before they could get a field goal attempt off. Derek Carr finished with325 passing yards while Coty Blanchard had 133 passing yards and 32 rushing yards after Marques Ivory went down with an injury during the game.
“Our interest this week is ourselves, not our opponent,” Simpson said.
Jacksonville State kept itself alive in the race for the OVC Championship with its second-straight three-point victory, this time by a 38-35 margin over Murray State. The Gamecocks are now 4-2 in OVC play, one game behind a trio of teams, including its opponent this week. The victory over MSU was the 100th in the coaching career of head coach Jack Crowe, who is in his 18th year overall as a collegiate head coach. After winning the game in overtime the previous week, junior kicker Thomas Griffin nailed the game-winner again this week, connecting from 38-yards out with 8:51 to play in the fourth quarter.
Senior Washaun Ealey rushed for 146 yards and three touchdowns on 37 carries (the second-most by a FCS running back this season). Ealey has now scored eight touchdowns over his last four games (JSU has gone 3-1 in that stretch). Freshman defensive back Jermaine Hough picked off his third pass in the past two weeks and finished the game with eight tackles. As a whole the JSU defensive unit held Murray State scoreless in the fourth quarter, snapping a streak of 23-straight quarters with points for MSU.
The Gamecocks now ranks ninth nationally in time of possession (32:59) and sixth in third down conversion percentage (51.56%).
In a three-way tie for first place, UT Martin is coming off its bye week. The Skyhawks play two of its final three games at home (including a game with Tennessee State) and controls its own fate for the OVC Championship if they win out. The Skyhawks enter this week having won three in a row and five of its last six.
After scoring a combined 117 points in two games to begin the month of October, the Skyhawks needed only 27 points to beat Southeast Missouri two weeks ago. In a game that featured a lot of running, Tevin Barksdale rushed for 107 yards for the Skyhawks while Carr finished with 156 passing yards and a touchdown threw the air and also a touchdown on the ground. Junior DJ Roberts keyed a defensive attack as he recorded eight tackles, 0.5 sacks, 2.5 tackles-for-loss and recovered a fumble in being named OVC Co-Defensive Player of the Week.
Jason McNair returned a punt 56 yards in the game and now ranks fourth nationally in punt returns (15.25 yards/return). As a team UT Martin ranks seventh nationally in turnover margin (+1.13/game) and is ninth in fumbles recovered (11).
“We need to put together a team win,” Simpson said. “We have played team football all year, and this is not the week to stop.”