Golden Eagle Football Countdown: TSU visits Cookeville for OVC, Sergeant York contest
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Countdown to camp: 5 days
Countdown to season opener: 30 days
Countdown to home opener: 35 days
Who: Tennessee State Tigers
What: Game 6, OVC game, Seargent York trophy game
When: Saturday, Oct. 15, 7 p.m. CT
Where: Tucker Stadium, Cookeville, Tenn.
Tech's 21-10 victory over Tennessee State at LP Field in Nashville on Oct. 23 was one of the high point in the Golden Eagles' 2010 season, capping off a three-game winning streak. If TTU can repeat that feat when the Tigers visit Cookeville on Oct. 15, the Golden Eagles would be well on their way to competing for a league title down the stretch — they would charge into the second half of the season no worse than 3-1 in OVC play.
After a promising start to the 2010 season in which Tennessee State went 3-1 in non-conference play and broke an eight-year drought against longtime rival Florida A&M, the Tigers stumbled to a rare 0-7 OVC mark, finishing winless in league play for the first time since joining the conference in 1986. Despite the high number of losses, five of the Tigers' 2010 games were decided by a touchdown or less.
The 2011 season marks the second year of the Rod Reed era in Nashville, and the Tigers return six starters from a defense that showed promise despite the lack of victories in 2010. TSU boasted the OVC's best unit in protecting the red zone a season ago and also came in at second in the league in sacks and opponent first downs and fourth in scoring defense. TSU's defense will be under new direction this year in defensive coordinator Justin Roberts' first season.
The positives were not so numerous for Tennessee State offensively in 2010. After suffering injuries to key offensive players, most notably a season-ending setback to all-conference running back Preston Brown in week five, the Tigers were shut out in two losses (at Jacksonville State and at Tennessee-Martin) and finished in the bottom half of the league in nearly every category. The good news for Tiger fans is that their team returns 10 players who started five or more games on offense in 2010.
TSU returns its quarterback — senior Jeremy Perry (163.2 yards per game, 53.7% completions) — for a consecutive season for the first time since 2008. Also back for the Tigers is leading rusher Dante' Thomas (72.1 yards per game, 5.1 per carry), a Preseason All-OVC selection who took over for Brown in 2010 after the starter was injured. Thomas has finished each of the past two seasons as TSU's yards-per-carry leader. The Tigers' leading returning receiver is Calvin McNairl (39 yards per game), who transitioned to the position last season after accounting for 51 percent of Tennessee State's offense as the starting quarterback in 2009.
On the offensive line, TSU lost two All-OVC second-team selections but does have experience returning in the form of five-year redshirt senior Justin Ridgeway, who has played all positions on the line but settled into the starting job at right tackle in 2010. The Tigers also have a strong youthful presence in Preseason All-OVC selection Kadeem Edwards, a sophomore guard.
Defensively, the Tigers will be led by senior middle linebacker Rico Council (79 total tackles, 39 solo), a Preseason All-OVC selection who finished second on the team in tackles in 2010. South Carolina transfer Donte' Nichols (25 total tackles, 11 solo) returns to anchor the defensive line while TSU will have to overcome the loss to two key players in the defensive backfield.
Linebacker Rico Council