Tech’s 31-29 win at Murray State in last Saturday night’s OVC opener helped the Golden Eagles make some noise in the conference standings (3rd at 2-2, 1-0).
The win didn’t come easy, though. Trailing 14 points in the second half, the Racers found a way to make it a game late, missing a home comeback tie by just a failed two-point conversion.
But, still, a win is still a win.
Here’s my rundown of last week’s win:
When he named him the starting quarterback in the spring, head coach Watson Brown must have had a hunch that Jared Davis was ready. After struggling at the start of last season, it looked like all Davis needed was a little confidence to light his fire. Through four games this season, it appears as if the flame is still hot. So far, Davis has completed 81-of-128 passes for 1040 yards with six touchdowns and three interceptions. On the ground, he’s added four rushing touchdowns on 75 yards. Against Murray State, he was 26-of-40 for 264 yards, a pair of passing TDs and a pick. He also led the Golden Eagles in rushing with 63 yards and a score. Not bad.
You can’t overlook Maleek Hall’s performance. His 10 tackles (nine solo), which were second on the team on Saturday, were impressive, but his three pass breakups were enough to catch some eyes. The attention really came, though, after Hall blocked an MSU field goal and extra point, which tabbed him as the OVC’s Special Teams Player of the Week.
Don’t forget senior Tra’Darius Goff, either, as I’m sure MSU’s offensive line won’t be for a while. Saturday night, the preseason all-OVC middle linebacker led both teams with 14 tackles (eight solo) while wreaking havoc in the Racers’ backfield throughout. While he came up just short on several sack attempts, he was finally able to grab one in the fourth quarter. Along with a forced fumble, his big night named him the OVC’s Defensive Player of the Week.
Play of the Night
Yes, QB Jared Davis was responsible for three touchdowns, but the play that likely saved the win fell on his head’s up effort. Facing a 3rd-and-2 near the goal line, Davis jumped to catch a high snap and battled for possession amid pressure from MSU’s defensive line. Without Davis’ presence of mind to secure the ball, the Racers would have been in perfect position to scoop up the fumble and run for 90 yards for a score or at least put them in favorable territory. Instead, Davis took a 12-yard loss, allowing John Arnold to kick a 31-yard field goal and give the Golden Eagles an 8-point lead, which forced the Racers to earn a touchdown and the two-point conversion that later failed and ultimately resulted in the winner for Tech.
Something appeared missing while looking at Tech’s stat line. Allowing just 60 rushing yards was impressively low, especially after giving up games of 266, 446 and 261 in the previous three. Forcing four recovered fumbles and three sacks was also an improvement over last weekend’s blank in both columns.
Offensively, you obviously can’t ignore Davis’ numbers, but what’s a good QB without a great supporting cast? Brock McCoin reached the century mark again with 108 receiving yards on 14 catches, but Jordan Smith, who’d sat out while redshirting in 2014, found his former glory with 78 yards and two TDs on five catches.
The Golden Eagles keep coming up empty on third down. Against MSU, they were 1-of-13. You can’t expect to win too many games with that, but somehow, they’ve overcome to win two. On the year, Tech is 12-of-50 on third down for a low 24 percent.
On defense, Tech has to find ways to limit opposing playmakers. Yes, it stopped the run last week, but the pass game burned Tech on several occasions. And by several I mean KD Humphries’ 43 completions for 491 yards and three TDs. If Tech expects to be competitive in the OVC, especially with its remaining schedule, that can’t happen again.
Back in Cookeville, the Golden Eagles take on the UT Martin Skyhawks (1-2, 0-1 OVC) on Saturday at 6 p.m. at Tucker Stadium. But don’t let their record fool you. UTM has taken losses from FBS No. 15 Ole Miss and FCS No. 1, OVC’s “team to beat” Jacksonville State. Quarterback Jarord Neal, who’s at 821 yards and 10 TDs on the year after just three games, could easily give Tech some fits if given the chance.