Following two tough road losses at Houston and Wofford to begin the season, the Golden Eagles football team is looking to get on the winning track as it prepares for its first home game this Saturday with Mercer University, the first meeting ever between the two teams.
With a 4-2 record at home last season, Tech will attempt to build from last season’s home advantage during this year’s home opener, where the Golden Eagles are 8-0 in their previous eight home starts.
Head coach Watson Brown stressed the importance of getting the first win of the season out of the way Saturday.
"We just need a win,” said Brown. “That is what our team needs right now – to taste victory. Hopefully our home crowd will help us out because Mercer is sure not going to lay down and give it to us.”
After putting up impressive efforts in games with a top-tier Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) school and a top FCS Southern Conference team, confidence levels seem to be higher than normal during practice this week in preparation for the Bears (2-0).
“We have played two very good opponents and we are sore and beat up a little bit, but the attitudes are good and the confidence levels are up,” Brown said. “We know what we have played, and now we are getting ready for Mercer and feeling good about it.”
Brown admitted, though, that there were some mistakes and missed opportunities during the first two games but said he hopes to get them corrected before Saturday.
“We are still making too many mistakes, but like I said before the season, this is a young team and (players) should get better,” he said.
The Bears bring a pass-heavy offense led by junior quarterback John Russ, who’s completed over 70 percent of his passes and thrown for over 500 yards with five touchdowns and no interceptions so far this season. Mercer’s offense also features two solid running backs in Alex Lakes and Tee Mitchell, a pair Tech’s defense will have to put on an improved showing against, after giving up 444 yards on the ground last Saturday at Wofford.
Tech senior linebacker Jay Rudwall said the challenge this week exists in stopping the Bears’ balanced offensive attack, while also trying to improve the mistakes from the loss last weekend. Rudwall, along with redshirt senior linebacker Tra’Darius Goff, who led the team in tackles last week at Wofford, will provide vocal leadership this week to prepare for their last first home game of their collegiate careers.
"It is easier to prepare for an offense we would see in our conference and that we see on a more regular basis,” said Rudwall. “We are not looking back at the Wofford game – that is behind us and we take pride in our defense. We are getting back to fundamentals. We need to be more focused with a more balanced attack coming in this week.”
A storyline for Saturday will be the return of a familiar face in former Tech quarterback Tre Lamb, who led the Golden Eagles to their first OVC Championship in over 38 years during his junior season in 2011. Lamb worked as a graduate assistant under Brown, and soon after took a job as Mercer’s quarterbacks coach.
While Brown said seeing Lamb back on Overall Field is something to look forward to, it also creates an additional challenge in bringing unfamiliar schemes for the experienced former player.
“That’s neat, but not good,” said Brown of Lamb’s return to campus. “Tre Lamb knows everything we do backwards and forwards, and he owns all of the records as a quarterback in the history of Tech. But we are looking forward to seeing him because he means an awful lot to us. It should be an exciting game.”
Kickoff for Saturday’s home opener is set for 6 p.m.