Michael German’s second pass of the game proved to be an unwelcome omen.
The Tennessee State quarterback threw an interception and it was an uphill climb for the Tigers from there. And for the first time all season, they failed to come out on top.
A 44-yard field goal in overtime sunk No. 18 TSU in a 31-28 loss at Jacksonville State on Saturday. Off to their best start since 1999, the Tigers (7-1, 3-1 Ohio Valley Conference) dropped their first game and joined three other OVC teams with one conference defeat.
TSU battled back to tie three times, the last on German's 11-yard touchdown to Travis James with 9:20 left in regulation. The quarterback was not his steady self, though, despite three touchdowns, 311 yards and 21 completions in 37 attempts. The Tigers got the ball back on the JSU 40 after a fumble, but German gave it right back with an interception on the next play.
The 2011 OVC Freshman of the Year was also sacked four times, the most crucial takedown coming in overtime. He was dropped for a 13-yard loss on third down, putting TSU back at the 25-yard line. That turned an easy kick into a 42-yard attempt, which Jamin Godfrey missed wide right – his second miss of the day.
German wasn’t the only Tiger struggling. A normally seal-tight defense has slipped the last three games. Ranked third in the country in scoring defense with an average of 13 points allowed in its five games, TSU has surrendered more than 20 in three straight contests.
The high-flying offenses in the OVC have been more of a challenge. Behind former Georgia tailback Washaun Ealey’s 108 rushing yards and two touchdowns, Jacksonville State (4-3, 3-2) wore down the Tigers.
Lost in the defeat was another superb performance by running back Trabis Ward. A week after rushing for 267 yards – the second most in school history – and four touchdowns, the junior joined elite company. He finished with 168 yards and a touchdown to eclipse the 1,000-yard mark for the season.
It is just the seventh-time TSU has had a 1,000-yard rusher and the first since Javarris Williams in 2008. With three regular season games remaining Ward has 1,070 yards – the sixth-most in school history.
On Saturday, though, only one stat mattered much to Ward and the rest of the Tigers.
“Yards really don’t count if we don’t win,” Ward said.
Alabama 44, Tennessee 13: Not surprisingly, the top-ranked Crimson Tide rolled through the Volunteers for nearly 600 yards of offense and six touchdowns. UT (3-4, 0-4 SEC) never had a chance and Tyler Bray once again failed to show up in a big game, throwing two interceptions.
Mississippi State 45, Middle Tennessee State 3: In their first game without running back Benny Cunningham, who suffered a season-ending knee injury last week, the Blue Raiders (4-3) stuck around for the opening 30 minutes and trailed just 10-3. Then No. 15 Mississippi State woke up and scored five straight touchdowns in the second half.
Eastern Kentucky 42, Tennessee Tech 28: Da’Rick Rogers tied a school-record with three touchdown receptions. But defense failed the Golden Eagles (2-5, 0-4) again in their fifth straight loss. Tech has surrendered 42.5 points a game, which ranks 116th out of 121 FCS teams.
BY THE NUMBERS
3 – points from a 32-yard field goal by Tennessee’s Michael Palardy. It marked the first points given up by Alabama in a first quarter all season. The Tide had outscored opponents 90-0 in the opening period.
5 – fourth-down attempts by Vanderbilt in a 17-13 win over Auburn. The Commodores converted two fourth-downs but turned the ball over on downs three times, including a failed fake punt and squashed halfback pass.
12 – consecutive quarters MTSU has gone without scoring a touchdown against an SEC opponent. The Blue Raiders last broke through in a 31-22 loss to Mississippi State on Oct. 25, 2008.
162 – receiving yards by Alabama’s Amari Cooper. Tennessee last surrendered more than 150 receiving yards since former Alabama standout Julio Jones had 221 on Oct. 23, 2010.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tennessee linebacker A.J. Johnson
Not many bright spots for the Vols but Johnson once again was stellar. The 6-foot-2, 240-pound linebacker collected a team-high 14 tackles, including 10 solo stops, against top-ranked Alabama. He also flew into the end zone in the second quarter for a two-yard touchdown run – Tennessee’s only touchdown. Johnson has been used in several goal line situations, scoring four touchdowns this year with eight rushes for 14 yards. He also leads the SEC with 12.2 tackles a game.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“We just got whipped. But we’ve got to regroup. We go to South Carolina next week. We've got a lot of ball ahead. We can't just stick our heads in our tail and go home. You've got to go play. And we'll do it. We'll recover.” – Tennessee coach Derek Dooley
Odds are that Vanderbilt will win back-to-back games for the first time this season as it follows Saturday's victory over Auburn with a visit from winless Massachusetts … Tennessee, on a three-game losing streak, picked a bad week to travel to No. 17 South Carolina. The Gamecocks should be angry and looking for someone to unleash their frustration on after getting crushed by Florida 44-11 … Tennessee Tech is sinking fast after its its straight loss. Still, coming off its first defeat of the season, Tennessee State must shake off a possible letdown as the Golden Eagles visit Hale Stadium… MTSU attempts to rebound with a visit to last-place Florida International… MTSU and North Texas are two of five Sun Belt teams tied for second in the league standings. The winner of a showdown in Murfreesboro can stay in the hunt behind frontrunner Louisiana-Monroe… Not sure if the bye week will make homecoming any less painless for winless Austin Peay, which hosts Southeast Missouri.