The OVC Notebook will run weekly and the interviews take place during the OVC teleconference on Tuesdays.
The Eastern Illinois University football team was without the services of senior kicker Nick Bruno in the 22-20 win over Indiana State last Thursday. Bruno, who has made 64 consecutive extra points and is EIU’s kickoff specialist, suffered an injury during warmups and missed the contest.
Bruno’s injury forced true freshman Matt Severino into action along with senior Nick Wilson, who is a Charleston graduate. Severino went 1-for-2 on extra points, and Wilson hit a 22-yard field goal right before halftime.
Bruno’s availability for Saturday’s game against Northern Illinois is still in doubt. Punter Cody Edwards could assume kickoff duties if Bruno is unable to suit up.
“It was a first for me that a kicker would hurt himself stretching before he kicked a ball. That’s something I wasn’t expecting,” EIU coach Kim Dameron said. “We will kick the guys that we have and see what the best combination is and see what we have. I thought Cody did a good job punting and was happy with him. Matt wasn’t expecting to kick, so last week it was a shock to him. Nick is a local guy and he can punt and kick. It’s something we need to iron out by game time.”
Tennessee State (1-0)
The Tigers got off to a great start to the season with a 17-10 win over Georgia State, an FBS team, on Saturday. The win put the Tigers in the FCS STATS poll at No. 23.
The Tigers defense, which allowed only 273 yards of total offense, was led by senior linebacker Chris Collins, who earned co-OVC defensive player of the week honors. Collins had 12 tackles, three for a loss, a sack and forced a fumble. TSU recovered the fumble at its own 25-yard line. One of the tackles for a loss came on fourth-and-goal at the 4-yard line to give the Tigers the ball back.
“Chris is the heart and soul of our defense,” TSU coach Rod Reed said. “He gets everything setup up front. Chris does all of the calls and gets everyone lined up. As he goes, the defense goes and hopefully, he can play at that high level all year.”
Due to an injury, Reed was forced to start a true freshman at safety on Saturday. It actually benefited the Tigers. Freshman Vincent Sellers recorded 10 tackles, including a tackle for a loss. One of his tackles came at the 2-yard line, which forced Georgia State to kick a field goal. Sellers prevented a score on a 59-yard pass play and Georgia State failed to score on the drive.
Sellers was named the OVC newcomer of the week.
“We weren’t expecting him to come in and be a starter, but we knew he had the ability,” Reed said. “We had a guy go down with an ankle injury, and Vincent stepped up and made some plays in practice, so we decided to put him out there and he played well.”
Murray State (1-0)
Murray State rolled to a 67-7 win over Kentucky Wesleyan and it was the debut for junior kicker Gabriel Vicente, who joined the Racers in July. Vicente never kicked a football or played the game before the game against Kentucky Wesleyan.
Vicente set the bar high as he was a perfect 7-for-7 on extra points and hit a 30-yard field goal in his only attempt. He earned OVC co-specialist of the week.
“He was a soccer player and our special teams coordinator found him late,” Murray State coach Mitch Stewart said. “I met his parents for the first time at the game. We were very pleased with his production and he had a battle going on in camp. You have to tell him everything. If you don’t tell him to kickoff at the 35-yard line, he doesn’t know. We are teaching him the rules.”
Now the Racers go from facing an NCAA Division II opponent to playing No. 15-ranked Central Arkansas on Saturday.
“They are a really good football team. Their line of scrimmage guys on both sides are big and they have great skill position players,” Stewart said. “Coming from the type of the game like last week to Central Arkansas, the speed of the game is big, especially with the young guys. It’s an unrealistic view after last week.”
UT Martin (1-0)
The Skyhawks played in wet conditions this past week against a non-Division I opponent. Still, UT Martin cruised to a 36-0 win over Clarion.
“I wish the weather was more cooperative, and we didn’t know if we would get it in,” UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said. “The defense got the shutout and anytime you get that it’s good. I’m disappointed in our offense, but it was good to play a lot of guys.”
UT Martin jumps up for an FBS-level game this week again Ole Miss.
“It’s a huge jump,” Simpson said. “There’s a lot of NFL guys on those (SEC West) teams, and it’s a different speed, size and length, and there’s a tremendous challenge that goes with that.”
No. 5 Jacksonville State (1-0)
The Gamecocks had the week off after beating Chattanooga in the Kickoff Classic the week before.
JSU returns a lot on the defensive end, but it was a new starter who made a big impact in the win over Chattanooga. Senior linebacker Jonathan Hagler made his first collegiate start and picked off a pass 52 yards for a score. He added four tackles and a pass breakup in the win.
Hagler was named the co-OVC defensive player of the week.
“Jonathan had a role last year on special teams and played a few snaps,” JSU coach John Grass said. “He’s a guy you love to see be successful. He got a lot stronger, and his nose for the football is really good. He’s a guy that’s in the right spots in the right time.”
Austin Peay (0-1)
Austin Peay head coach Will Healy needed to see an improvement out of his defense this season. The unit was the first in scoring defense and yards allowed in the OVC last year.
Making a big improvement against an FBS team in Cincinnati was a tough task. The Governors' defense showed they have made strides since last year though.
Cincinnati won the game 26-14, but Austin Peay outgained the Bearcats 307 to 248. Austin Peay held Cincinnati to 97 yards rushing and 151 yards through the air.
“I don’t think you can even compare the defense to last year,” Healy said. “We have more to push up front and we are more talented in the back in. It looks totally different. Last year, you hope that’s something you don’t have to see again. They competed hard and played hard and that’s what you expect to see.”
Eastern Kentucky (0-1)
After a scoreless first quarter, Western Kentucky put 17 points on the board and beat Eastern Kentucky in the season-opener.
EKU did keep WKU’s return game in check, however. WKU ranked No. 2 nationally in punt returns a year ago, but senior punter Keith Wrzuszczak punted four times, and only one punt was returnable for WKU. He averaged 40.5 yards per punt and put a kick inside the Hilltoppers' 20-yard line.
Wrzuszczak earned co-OVC specialist of the week.
“I’ve had the fortune to be around a lot of good punters, and five or six of them have gone on to the NFL. I’ve seen what really good looks like,” EKU coach Mark Elder said. “Keith is certainly in that same category. He might not have as big of a leg as two or three that I’ve been around, but he has the best control of all of them. We ask a lot from him and to do a whole bunch of different things because we think he’s capable of that.”
Tennessee Tech (0-1)
Tech’s offense never really got anything going until the fourth quarter in a 41-14 loss to Western Illinois.
Still, Tech coach Marcus Satterfield saw enough out of Andre Sale to name him the starter against Kennesaw State on Saturday.
Sale was 11-for-22 for 223 yards, two touchdowns and an interception.
“I was pleased with Andre for the most part, calling the plays and getting out of the huddle,” Satterfield said. “He can do better with his accuracy. Andre will be our starter moving forward, and the team is playing hard for him. The next couple of weeks are crucial before conference play.”
Southeast Missouri State (0-1)
The Redhawks go from facing a Big 12 team in Kansas, who beat SEMO 38-16, to an NCAA Division I non-scholarship opponent.
Still, Dayton has been a dangerous team over the past few years and SEMO coach Tom Matukewicz is from Ohio, so he knows the quality of players Dayton has, whether they are on scholarship or not.
“We respect all opponents. They find a way to get players on (academic) aid. They do a good job and have good players,” Matukewicz said. “I think the biggest thing is, the reason they have a winning program is consistency. The coaching staff has been there a long time and have built something. It doesn’t matter who you play, it’s how you prepare.”