By Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information
RICHMOND, Ky. – The regular season is winding down to the final two games of the campaign and Tennessee Tech is on a mission.
The Golden Eagles have won six games this season – only 15 teams in Tech's 98 seasons have won more – and there's a chance Tech could get even higher should they win these final two games.
There's also an outside chance of reaching the Football Championship Subdivision playoffs, but with the Golden Eagles currently standing in a tie for fourth, they will need help. The three teams ahead of Tech comprise their three conference losses – Austin Peay, Southeast Missouri and UT Martin.
The Governors are at Murray State this week, then host Eastern Illinois in the final week of the campaign. SEMO is at Eastern Illinois, then hosts Murray State in the finale. UT Martin hosts Tennessee State in its conference finale this week, then takes on SEC foe Kentucky next week.
A chance for movement among those top four spots -- and possibly even a four-way tie -- is possible, and the Golden Eagles are certainly going to try to hold up their end of the bargain as they travel to Richmond to take on Eastern Kentucky Saturday afternoon.
The OVC has put three teams into the FCS Playoffs just once – 2013 as Tennessee State, Jacksonville State and Eastern Illinois earned bids after the field expanded to 24 teams.
But to have the opportunity to get there, Tech must win its final two contests – and Richmond and Roy Kidd Stadium have not been kind to the Golden Eagles over the years. The Colonels hold a 55-20 advantage over Tech in the all-time series, made even more lopsided by a 22-year losing streak between 1976 and 1997.
Roy Kidd Stadium, named after the legendary Colonel head coach, opened in 1969. Since then, the Golden Eagles are 3-22 in the stadium. The last win there came in the 2011 campaign as Tech defeated Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky on their home fields to force a tie for the OVC title and earn the outright automatic bid.
Tech also won 14-3 there in 1975, then a 9-3 victory in 2000. That said, Tech has only claimed five victories total against the Colonels since 2000 – 2000, 2006, 2011, 2014 and 2016, three in Cookeville and two in Richmond.
However, Tech would prefer it to be like last week against Jacksonville State -- the Golden Eagles aren't going to be held back by what has happened before. After a three-game losing streak, Tech has won back-to-back games, including the first victory over the Gamecocks since the 2011 campaign to end a seven-game losing streak against JSU.
Eastern Kentucky is currently tied with the Golden Eagles in the league standings, both holding on to identical 3-3 standings in the OVC, Tech a game better in the overall with a 6-4 record to the Colonels' mark of 5-5.
Plus, no matter what happens to the Golden Eagles these next two games, they are guaranteed at least a .500 record and their best finish since going 7-4 in 2011. If Tech can win both this week's contest and next week's regular-season finale against Tennessee State, it would be the first Tech team to win eight games since the 2000 campaign.
EKU comes into the contest with the top scoring defense in the conference, allowing just 23.1 points per game. The Colonels have allowed 29 touchdowns and 10 field goals for 231 total points. Tech, on the other hand, has the second-best scoring offense in the league, trailing only Austin Peay, and averages 31.1 points a game.
On the flipside of the equation, the Golden Eagles have yielded the most points in the league, allowing 36.3 points per game, the numbers skewed by blowouts against UT Martin and Austin Peay. Tech has allowed 48 touchdowns and 10 field goals, leading to a conference-most 363 points scored. The Colonels are averaging 28.4 points a game with 36 touchdowns and 10 field goals.
When comparing the total offensive numbers, Tech ranks fourth in the conference in yardage, averaging 397.8 per game to EKU's 353.4, ranked seventh. On defense, the Colonels are second, allowing an average of 336.2 per game, Tech eighth with 423.6.
EKU has the conference's top rushing offense, rolling up an average of 203.5 yards per game and has the most rushing scores with 26 TDs. Tech ranks fourth, rushing for 143.6 yards per game. The Colonels are also third in rush defense, allowing 134.7 yards and 13 scores, while the Golden Eagles allow an average of 157.8 yards per game and 20 touchdowns, ranking eighth.
The Golden Eagles have the fourth-best passing offense in the conference, averaging 254.2 yards per game with 23 touchdown passes – the second most in the league behind only Jacksonville State. The Colonels are ninth in passing with an average of 149.9 yards per game with only eight passing touchdowns. But on the flipside, EKU has also been the league's best pass defense, allowing an average of 201.5 yards per game through the air and 14 touchdowns. Tech has allowed an average of 265.8 yards per game and a league-most 27 passing touchdowns.
Daryl McCleskey has rushed for 1,022 yards this season for the Colonels, the only 1,000-yard rusher so far this season in the OVC, with seven touchdowns, while teammate Alonzo Booth has 567 yards and a conference-best 12 rushing touchdowns. David Gist leads Tech with 443 yards and one touchdown this season, while quarterback Bailey Fisher has a team-high 10 rushing scores with 409 total yards.
Quarterback Parker McKinney has thrown for 1,179 yards this season with seven touchdowns, averaging 131.0 yards per game, but six players have thrown passes this season for the Colonels. Keylon Dixon leads EKU In receiving with 420 yards and a touchdown.
Fisher has thrown for 2,324 yards on 199-of-317 passing this season with 20 touchdowns, 30 combined for the season. He is averaging 232.4 yards per game. The sophomore quarterback has already broken Tech's single-season records for passing touchdowns and combined touchdowns, but needs 17 completions to tie Michael Birdsong for single-season completions, 253 yards to tie Birdsong for single-season yardage, five rushing touchdowns to tie Dontey Gay for single-season rushing touchdowns and 70 yards to tie Birdsong for single-season total offense records. Fisher also needs 55 attempts to tie Robert Craft's single-season pass attempts record.
Fisher currently stands 808 passing yards behind Southeast Missouri's Jack Tomco (3,132 in 2002) for the 10th best passing season in OVC history and 841 behind Eastern Illinois' Tony Romo (3,165 the same year) for ninth. With 2,733 yards of total offense, Fisher is 674 yards behind Murray State's Justin Fuente (3,407 in 1999) for the 10th best season in OVC history and 754 behind Murray State's Casey Brockman (3,487 in 2011).
Saturday's game will mark Fisher's first game against the Colonels as he missed the contest last season to injury.
Freshman Metrius Fleming leads the Golden Eagles on receiving with 571 yards and three receiving scores to go along with his two rushing touchdowns and a kickoff return score. Fleming is averaging 57.1 receiving yards a game.
Haidar Zaidan is the Golden Eagles' second-leading scorer with 45 points on 9-of-12 field goals and 18-for-18 PATs. Zaidan, who won his second OVC Specialist of the Week honor this past week, kicked a career-long 54-yard field goal, tied for the second-longest in program history. EKU kicker Sam Hayworth has 64 points on 10-of-13 field goal kicking and 34-of-34 on PATs. Hayworth has a season-long of 38 yards.
Corey Glass leads the Colonels with 65 total tackles and three fumble recoveries. As a team, EKU has 77 tackles for-loss, 15 sacks, 11 interceptions for 134 yards and nine fumble recoveries for 93 yards. Aderick Moore leads Tech with 82 total tackles, a sack, an interception and two forced fumbles. As a team. Teck has 54 tackles for-loss, 24 sacks for 130 yards, eight interceptions for 102 yards and nine fumble recoveries for 70 yards.
Kickoff from Richmond is at Noon Central on Saturday. Roger Ealey and Buddy Pearson will provide the call for 98.5 KISS FM. Greg Stotelmyer, Jim Tirey and Wes Chandler will present the game online on ESPN+ (subscription required).
Photo by Thomas Corhern, TTU Sports Information