By Clay Ward
The Ohio Valley Conference will have only one undefeated team leaving Roy Kidd Stadium after Saturdays game between Eastern(5-2, 3-0 OVC) and Tennessee State(3-3, 2-0).Eastern leads the rivalry 18-2, with the Colonels winning the last 7 games, beating Tennessee State 20-3.
The history of the two teams doesn’t affect Eastern Head Coach Danny Hope’s opinion of the competitor. “They have an excellent team, and coach James Webster runs and excellent program there,” Coach Hope said.
The Colonels rank first in turnover margin out of all 116 Division I FCS programs totaling +15. They have scored 72 points off turnovers and have only given up six points of their own turnovers.
Junior Alan Holland has been a big part of the Colonels’ lack of turnovers, his last interception occurring against Kentucky the first week of the season.
Holland has 154 attempts without an interception, needing 20 more attempts to tie Eastern’s record of 174 set in 1997 by Simon Fuentes.
With Holland proving he can avoid defenders in the pocket and throw on the run, Richmond may see a surge in Eastern’s passing game again after the Southeast Missouri State.
It was a game in which Eastern used the passing game to get in the red zone, then scored with senior Bobby Washington or Mark Dunn.
Tennessee State Junior Antonio Heffner is the only quarterback in the OVC who ranks higher than Holland in passing yards. Heffner also has an OVC-high 10 touchdowns and the best passer rating at 144.03.
Eastern’s pass defense turnover leaders in the OVC are seniors Zach Denton and Derrick Huff.
The Tigers have more strength in the trenches, rushing the passer.
“They are excellent at rushing the pass; they have great guys coming off the edge,” Coach Hope said.
Eastern will put the defensive rush to the test with the Colonel offensive line giving up fewer than one sack a game on average while protecting Holland.
“They have a lot of speed at the skill positions, a great quarterback, a great running back, two of the top players in our league,” Coach Hope said.
The speed positions Hope is referring to is in juniors wide receiver Chris Johnson and running back Javarris Williams.
Johnson averages 18.5 yards a catch totaling 518 yards on the year for the Tigers. Williams has totaled more than Washington or Dunn for Eastern with 612 yards on the year.
“It will be a huge challenge for all phases of our football team,” Coach Hope said. “It’s an exciting time for our program; you have two undefeated teams in the conference coming into this Saturday into Roy Kidd stadium, it’ll be a showdown.