Behind the intimidating presences of Ed “Too Tall” Jones, Joe “Turkey” Reese, Claude Humphrey and Richard Dent, Tennessee State developed a reputation for stingy defenses.
Under the tutelage of John Merritt, TSU became a national powerhouse on its way to eight of its 12 black college national championships.
Apparently, Rod Reed believes in using a similar recipe to restore the Tigers to national prominence. Four games into his third season as head coach, Reed has TSU playing stalwart defense. That was obvious on Saturday when the Tigers pulled off a stunning 21-14 road victory at Bethune-Cookman.
The Wildcats scored both of its touchdowns before halftime before TSU buckled down on defense and improved to 4-0 for the first time since 2008. The Tigers haven’t allowed more than 14 points all season and have given up just one second-half touchdown in the last three games.
That bend-but-don’t-break mentality has TSU fifth in the nation in scoring defense (13.5 points per game). Against Bethune-Cookman, the defense was given more room to work with thanks to an unusually fast start by the offense.
An 80-yard pass play from Michael German to A.C. Leonard on TSU’s second offensive play set up Trabis Ward for the game’s first score. The Tigers tacked on two more touchdowns in second quarter – another Ward run and a blocked field goal – to grab a 21-0 lead. But Bethune-Cookman (2-2), which was ranked by some media outlets as the No. 1 Historically Black College and University, stormed back. The Wildcats scored twice in the last two minutes to cut the deficit to one possession by halftime.
From there, the Tigers put on the clamps.
Bethune-Cookman punted four times in the second half and twice turned the ball over on downs. Led by linebacker Nick Thrasher’s 13 tackles, the Tigers harassed Bethune-Cookman’s quarterbacks all day. The Wildcats had just 91 passing yards, threw an interception and were sacked four times.
The performance tickled Reed, a former All-American linebacker who played for TSU from 1984-87. If this production keeps up, he won’t be the only alum smiling.
With a win against Arkansas-Pine Bluff this weekend on homecoming at LP Field, the Tigers can improve to 5-0 for the first time in 11 years. They’re already the last undefeated team in the Ohio Valley Conference. The Tigers last captured the OVC crown in 1999, also the same year they last made the FCS (formerly Division I-AA) playoffs.
Perhaps that postseason hiatus is nearing an end, along with TSU’s irrelevance on the national stage.
• Southeast Missouri State 41, Tennessee Tech 38 (2OT): Tre Lamb and Da’Rick Rogers continued to exert their dominance with record-breaking nights and a combined six touchdowns. But that still wasn’t enough in a back-and-forth game as Tech (2-2, 0-1 Ohio Valley Conference) missed a 34-yard field goal to force triple overtime, losing its second straight.
• Tennessee 47, Akron 26: Either the Volunteers were still hung over from last week’s Florida loss or Akron, led by first-year coach Terry Bowden, was better than advertised. The Zips led several times in the first half and stuck around for more than three quarters. But Tennessee (3-1) and Tyler Bray staved off more embarrassment with 17 unanswered points and more than 600 yards.
• Tennessee-Martin 31, Austin Peay 6: Wes Kitts rushed for more than 100 yards for the third time in four games but the Governors (0-4, 0-2 OVC) still have much bigger problems – like themselves. Penalties plagued Austin Peay, which has gone six straight quarters without a touchdown.
BY THE NUMBERS
38 – completions by Tre Lamb, a school record. He also set a new Tennessee Tech mark for passing yards with 481.
144 – penalty yards by Austin Peay. The Governors were flagged 15 times and have accumulated 25 penalties for 250 yards over the last two weeks.
303 – receiving yards on 18 catches by Da’Rick Rogers to break a pair of Tennessee Tech records.
401 – passing yards by Tyler Bray. The Tennessee junior was just four shy of his career-high, which he set last year against Cincinnati. Bray and Peyton Manning (three times) are the only UT quarterbacks to eclipse 400 yards.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tennessee Tech receiver Da’Rick Rogers
Rogers is the gift that keeps on giving – or, more appropriately, receiving. The former All-SEC standout continues to gel just nicely with his new team. He had his best day yet with the Golden Eagles as the 6-foot-3 junior broke school records with 18 passes for 303 yards and was named the Ohio Valley Conference’s newcomer of the week. The former Tennessee playmaker scored two touchdowns for the Golden Eagles, getting into the end zone for the fourth straight game.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“Everybody has been beating this team up for the second half. So far, we’ve played four games and we’ve had three outstanding second halves and one outstanding third quarter. We just had a really bad stretch [against Florida]. I keep telling the team, ‘It's not who you are, it’s what you did.’ We screwed it up but that doesn't mean it's who you are.” – Tennessee coach Derek Dooley
A road test at No. 5 Georgia offers Tennessee another chance at another signature win and an opportunity to climb back into the SEC East conversation. ... Middle Tennessee State hopes a bye week helped in its effort to exorcise its triple option demons in a tough road challenge at Georgia Tech. ... Homecoming and its first ever game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff awaits TSU. ... Austin Peay’s chances of snapping a six-game losing streak are slim as the Govs take on Eastern Illinois and the top receiver in the FCS, Erik Lora. ... Tech stays on the road for the third straight week but aims to avoid its third straight defeat in a showdown at Murray State.