FCS Game of the Week: Tennessee State at UT Martin

(STATS) – Tennessee State and UT Martin have gotten off to terrific starts this season because of excellent defenses.

But as the rivals meet Saturday in one of the bigger games in series history – and their Ohio Valley Conference opener – with No. 24 UT Martin hosting No. 20 Tennessee State, their coaches have interesting takes on their defenses.

“You can actually have a high-scoring game even though you have two statistically outstanding defenses because they can get turnovers,” UTM coach Jason Simpson said. “Both teams are very capable of getting the (ball) loose and scoring on defense, and then all of a sudden you look up and there’s three or four touchdowns scored. Or short fields for the offense, (where) you get one play and score.”

It’s not lost on Tennessee State coach Rod Reed that his team ranks second in the OVC in time of possession (33 minutes, 15 seconds), trailing only UTM (34:38).

“That’s the best defense in the conference,” Reed said, “when you’re sitting there over on the bench drinking Gatorade and your offense is driving the ball. That’s where we like to be.”

FCS GAME OF THE WEEK

The Matchup: No. 20 Tennessee State (3-0) at No. 24 UT Martin (2-1)

Kickoff: 5 p.m. ET at Hardy M. Graham Stadium (7,500) in Martin, Tennessee

Television: ESPN3

Series: Tennessee State leads 16-10 (last meeting: TSU won 34-30 in Nashville on Oct. 1)

The Skinny: These rivals might be hard-pressed to match last year’s score because they’ve been so dominant defensively. Tennessee State, behind middle linebacker Chris Collins, leads the conference in scoring defense (12.7 ppg), total yards (279.3 ypg) and pass defense (159.7 ypg), while UT Martin is surrendering less than two yards per carry and held Chattanooga to 150 total yards (six rushing) in a 21-7 road win last week. The visiting Tigers, who beat FBS Georgia State to open the season, have relied heavily on mobile quarterback Treon Harris, a Florida transfer. He will have to solve a 3-3-5 UTM defense that features safeties Tae Martin (interception in each of the first three games), Kahlid Hagens and Joe Estes. Wide receiver Patrick Smith, the OVC’s preseason offensive player of the year, caught the game-winning touchdown with 18 seconds left in last year’s TSU win. UT Martin, ranked for the first time in four years, has a veteran quarterback, Troy Cook, who manages the offense well, but the Skyhawks prefer to control the clock with Ladarius Galloway (141.3 rushing yards per game).

Prediction: In a matchup of two evenly matched teams with aspirations of winning the OVC title and reaching the FCS playoffs, the Skyhawks get the nod for being at home. UT Martin, 21-20.