The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

The student news site of Eastern Illinois University in Charleston, Illinois.

The Daily Eastern News

Tigers have big advantage

Tennessee State looks like a Football Bowl Subdivision team, but the Tigers do not have the record to prove it.

At 3-5, the Tigers have struggled this season; however, Eastern head coach Bob Spoo will not overlook the fact that 14 of the Tigers’ 20 transfer players are from FBS schools.

For example, TSU defensive back Wylie Joseph transferred from Miami, Fla., safety Eugene Clifford transferred from Ohio State, and defensive end Marcus Broxie transferred from West Virginia.

The FBS talent is wide spread on the Tigers’ roster, but the team is winless in the Ohio Valley Conference this season.

“They are stopping themselves,” Spoo said.

Whether it is a wide receiver dropping a ball or the offense committing a penalty in the red zone, the team has been its own Achilles heel.

The Tigers are the worst ranked team in the OVC at committing penalties. TSU has committed six more penalties than the next worst team in the OVC this season – 23 more than Eastern.

However, none of the Eastern coaches are denying that TSU has a good defense, and has a “huge” offensive line.

Four of the Tigers’ five starting offensive linemen are over 300 pounds.

Linemen such as 6-foot-7, 345-pound Rogers Gaines, 6-foot-6, 325-pound Gershom Jordan, and 6-foot-4, 325-pound Anthony Woods are some of the biggest offensive linemen that the Eastern defense will see all season.

Woods is one of the Tigers’ FBS transfers. He transferred from Michigan State.

With the Tigers’ size on the offensive line, the offense has been able to establish a physical running game as the main part of its system.

TSU has the second-best rushing offense in the OVC, averaging 205 yards per game. That is partly without Preston Brown, who led the nation in rushing before he got injured and out for the remainder of the season.

Brown rushed for 760 yards before getting injured. But Donte’ Thomas has come into the starting role and has run for 687 yards in eight games this season. Brown played in five games.

Eastern’s defensive coordinator said he is worried about the effectiveness of the TSU running game against the Eastern defense. Bellantoni said his defense missed more tackles last week than it has in any other game this season.

However, Bellantoni said the team the defense was going up against featured the best running backs it has seen all season.

“Austin Peay has the best running backs we’ve played,” Bellantoni said.

Austin Peay is the No. 4 rushing team in the OVC. TSU is No. 2.

Spoo said he hopes the Eastern offense can establish a rushing attack of its own; however, the size and skill of the TSU defense might not allow that.

TSU has the No. 4 rush defense in the OVC. Eastern has the worst rush offense in the OVC.

If the Panthers don’t establish a running game, Spoo said they will be forced to pass the ball. And Spoo said he hopes freshman quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo can handle the pressure that he will be presented with.

“The defensive line of Tennessee State is big,” Spoo said.

The Tigers have the second-most sacks in the OVC this season, coming up with 10 thus far.

“This team can bring it and bring a lot of pressure,” Spoo said.

Broxie only has one sack this season, but has been in the backfield more than any of his teammates, coming up with a team-leading 7-1/2 tackles for losses.

TSU linebacker Rico Council leads the team with four sacks this season.

Eastern’s offensive line is giving up the most sacks out of any team in the OVC this season. Eastern quarterbacks have been sacked 34 times for a total loss of 225 yards. Only Eastern Kentucky has been as bad, giving up 34 sacks too.

Since the TSU defensive line is set on putting pressure on the quarterback, Spoo said Garoppolo will have to make smart decisions with the ball.

“Jimmy is learning,” Spoo said.

Spoo said Garoppolo is still learning that he doesn’t always have to pass when the coaches call a pass play. Spoo said sometimes dropping back to pass, but running the ball is smart, or throwing the ball out of play.

The emphasis for Garoppolo to make smart decisions will be important Saturday, Spoo said. TSU is the only team in the OVC that has a better pass defense than Eastern. TSU has 10 interceptions this season.

With a talented player like Clifford, who has a team-leading four interceptions this season, on the edge, Spoo said the Eastern wide receivers will have to prove how skilled they are.

“Tennessee State wont be afraid to play our guys man-to-man,” Spoo said. “Man-to-man tests the real skill of the wide receiver.”

Spoo said he took a saying from former San Francisco 49ers head coach Bill Walsh earlier this week in practice, to teach his wide receivers how to deal with man-to-man coverage.

“Run every route anticipating man-to-man,” Spoo said.

This means the wide receivers will have to run at full speed, making sharp cuts, Spoo said.

TSU has beaten Eastern two times in a row. Spoo said the team was embarrassed on Senior Day last season.

This season, Eastern being 1-8, Spoo said the team will have to ride the momentum of getting its first win last week against Austin Peay.

“The mood is so much different now, very positive since our victory,” Spoo said.

Alex McNamee can be reached at 581-7944 or [email protected]

Tigers have big advantage

Tigers have big advantage

Chris Wright, a sophomore wide receiver, prevents Austin Peay’s Steven Ragin from catching the ball Saturday afternoon at O’Brien Field. (Audrey Sawyer

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