The Golden Eagles (2-7, 1-5 Ohio Valley Conference) are set to take on the Austin Peay Governors (0-10, 0-7) in Saturday’s annual Homecoming game at 1:30 p.m. at Tucker Stadium.
Tech is finally out of the “meat” of its tough midseason stretch, which included losses to FCS No. 1 and No. 24 ranked Jacksonville State and Eastern Kentucky, respectively.
Three of Tech’s five straight losses were away from home. And with last week’s open date, Saturday’s contest with APSU will mark Tech’s first game in Cookeville in nearly a month.
With just two more games left this Fall, the Golden Eagles have a chance to close out with two home wins, with a favorable matchup on Saturday against the Governors, whose offense and defense both rank last in the OVC.
Here’s a look at Tech’s recent struggles and some Homecoming optimism from head coach Watson Brown:
The blessing of a bye week
Last week’s open period came at a good time, or a terrible time, depending on one’s perspective. After losing five straight, though, one would have to assume the former.
“Well, it’s not where you want one, but I think where it fell now, we were glad to have it,” Brown said.
Players were able to physically heal during last week’s break. The effects should be evident on Saturday with a well-rested roster, which will feature probably the healthiest lineup at this point in the season in several years. To be 10 weeks in and only have one starting member down, defensive back Bill Dillard, things have been much worse, health and depth-wise, at this point.
“We’ve had good luck except at quarterback, and that’s a pretty important place,” Brown said. “Really, our kids, through this schedule with nine straight games, we’ve been very lucky with injuries this year.”
Davis back under center
The injury of most note, a broken hand to quarterback Jared Davis on Sept. 26 at Murray State, has hampered the offense ever since. Fortunately for the Golden Eagles, Davis’s status for Saturday is in better shape, especially after the bye.
“Our quarterback is back and he’s ready to go,” said Brown. “I don’t know that he would have been ready last week. He looks good and he’s had a really good week. We didn’t let him throw any last week, and I think it really helped him. He looks like the old Jared to me.”
Davis’s absence shook things up for Tech’s offense, which featured four different quarterbacks, including Davis and receiver Brock McCoin, in the last four games. The shakeup certainly crippled Tech’s chances in an already tough climb of a schedule, but some stability at the signal-caller spot this week could light a much-needed spark.
“I’d love to have seen what Jared’s stats would have been if he were healthy all year long,” Brown said. “I mean, in those first four games, the young man was playing out of sight. But I’d also like to see him come back and be the Jared of those first four games and really get our offense going again.
“We knew we were going to have to score 30 points in a lot of those games, and we were close. I mean, lord, we got 24 on Houston (in the season opener) and Vanderbilt got zero (on Oct. 31). We were rolling at that point. But (Davis) broke his hand, and it’s been tough on us. I mean, lord, we played a receiver at quarterback in the last game, and I thought he did a great job. It’s disappointing that we’ve had to do that. But our kids have hung in there, though, and I’m proud of ‘em.”
But it’s still a rivalry…
Even with the OVC title and Sgt. York Trophy — for the best OVC team in the state of Tennessee — out of reach, Brown said there’s still plenty left to play for, especially with a Homecoming game against a team that’s won one of its last 34 games.
“The York Trophy may be gone, but there’s two in-state rivals left,” Brown said of the APSU and Tennessee State matchup set for next Saturday. “We beat this bunch five of the last six, and we want to make it six of the last seven. This is a big game for us, and I know it’s a big game for them. It always has been. When I coached there (1979-1980), we never lost to Tennessee Tech. I never had to say a word to (my players). They loved to play the Golden Eagles. It’s Austin Peay’s last game, and believe me, they’ll give us all they got.”
And with Tech’s recent struggles, the 0-10 team may not be as disadvantaged as it may look on paper.
“Well, we haven’t won a game in a while,” added Brown. “We gotta worry about ourselves and not about Austin Peay. We’ve lost five straight, so we gotta get our heads on straight, get our confidence back and play Tech football. We haven’t played Tech football in the last couple of weeks.”
Regardless of this season’s woes, Saturday brings out the best of the program, both past and present members.
“It’s an important day to represent Tennessee Tech,” Brown said. “We have a lot of (former) players on the sidelines with us and a lot of alums coming back. Everywhere I’ve ever been, I’ve always felt like on these kinds of days, our kids show up and play, and I think this team will on Saturday.”