Eastern vs Tennessee Tech: 3 things to watch for


Adam Tumino | The Daily Eastern News

Antonio Crosby gets ready to tackle the ball carrier, as the ball carrier starts to make a move. Eastern lost 16-6 to Indiana State Sept. 21 at Memorial Stadium.

JJ Bullock, Editor-in-Chief

It has been a rough first four games for the Eastern football team to start the season, specifically on offense. Eastern has scored just 19 points in four games this season, leading it to an 0-4 start to the season.

Eastern began its season with four incredibly tough opponents (Eastern’s schedule is the sixth hardest in FCS football), with losses to Chattanooga, Indiana, Illinois State and Indiana State.

But Eastern heads into Saturday seeking to pick up its first win of the season against the weakest team on its schedule, Tennessee Tech.

Here are three things to watch for in that game:

Tennessee Tech’s offense vs Eastern’s defense-

This matchup is going to be an interesting one to keep an eye on; Tennessee Tech’s offense has been really good this season, as has Eastern’s defense. On Saturday, one of these units will have to bend to the other.

Tennessee Tech’s offense is led by dynamic sophomore quarterback Bailey Fisher. Fisher is a loose cannon on the field, the young quarterback, can kill you with his arm and his feet, but he is also prone to mistakes, as his five interceptions can attest to.

But Fisher is still dangerous, and Eastern knows it. He has 979 yards passing and four touchdowns this season. Fisher has added 189 yards rushing and an eye-popping seven touchdowns on the ground.

It has largely been the contributions of Fisher that have led to Tennessee Tech scoring an OVC high 36.2 points per game, so Eastern knows slowing him down will be key, but stopping him completely is something Eastern head coach Adam Cushing said is something that just does not happen with players as good as Fisher.

“We just have to do a good job of taking away his ability to make the huge play. He is going to keep the sticks moving some, we just have to keep him penned up. Not allow him to get on the perimeter, not allow him to take that broken play where it’s hard to cover for eight seconds and make something big out of it. We have to get to him and we have to keep him penned up.”

To make Fisher uncomfortable Eastern will rely on its pass rush to keep him on his toes all game. Defensive ends Austin Johnson and Dytarious Johnson, along with lineman Terrell Greer will be key in containing Fisher.

“We have got to be in the backfield,” Cushing said. “Because there is no quarterback in history that likes people in his face. We talked about keys to victory during the preseason camp and No. 2 was getting to the quarterback, affecting the quarterback. It is amazing how hurries and hits and they may not be the flashy sack statistic, but if you have people in the backfield it affects their decision making.

Is Eastern’s offense fixed?

As mentioned above, Eastern’s offense has been the Achilles’ heel of the team this season. But the team is confident it turned a corner in the second half against Indiana State and that a better product will be on the field Saturday against the Golden Eagles.

“I think that the confidence is at a different level with a lot of the offense right now,” Cushing said. “Just seeing us move the football, feeling that we were doing whatever we wanted to do, just by doing our job and being consistent.”

Eastern may find relief in Tennessee Tech’s defense, which ranked last in the OVC in 2018 and again is near the bottom of the pack this season allowing 36 points per game.

But opponent may not matter as much to Eastern’s offense as its own personnel will. Eastern has shuffled guys around on the offensive line this season and is still doing a balancing act with a two-quarterback system featuring Johnathan Brantley and Harry Woodbery.

Brantley played almost all of the loss against Illinois State and Indiana, but Woodbery played the entire second half of the team’s most recent loss to Indiana State, so watch for which quarterback sees more of the field come Saturday.

OVC implications

Tennessee Tech was selected to finish last in the OVC preseason poll, Eastern was selected to finish right above them.

The Golden Eagles had a 3-1 record in non-conference play to start the season, Eastern was 0-4, but the rest of the OVC will surely be watching this game to decipher if Tennessee Tech is better than expected and if Eastern may be worse.

It is not a battle of heavyweights, but both teams will be trying to make a statement.

Tennessee Tech will want to show the conference it is not the bottom dwellers they have been pegged as, and Eastern’s new coaching staff will be introducing itself to the OVC.

Kickoff is at 4 p.m. at O’Brien Field on Saturday.


JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected]