The No. 1 Mississippi State Bulldogs play host to the Skyhawks of UT Martin in a homecoming matchup on Saturday. Jared Peckenpaugh, sports editor of The Pacer, took time out to answer five questions about the foes from the Ohio Valley Conference. You can catch a full interview with him on my podcast, the Daily Grind, on Bulldog Sports Radio.
1) How do the Skyhawks feel about taking on the No. 1 team in FBS? I'm guessing excited.
JP: Head coach Jason Simpson mentioned in his weekly press conference that his team was pumped to be playing the No. 1 team on national TV and in an environment like Wade Davis Stadium. The fact that this is the first time the Skyhawks have played the No. 1 team adds even more excitement for this weekend.
2) Dylan Favre once played for the Bulldogs. Has that been any of the storyline heading into this game?
JP: Not only is this a homecoming for Dylan Favre, but also Coach Simpson. Simpson played football and baseball for two seasons at Mississippi State before transferring to Southern Miss. in 1992. So yes, both of them have a connection to Mississippi State and it has been mentioned in a few storylines this week.
3) What type of offense does UT Martin run? Who are some playmakers to watch Saturday?
JP: The Skyhawks run a very balanced offense. Jarod Neal is expecting to start at quarterback Saturday, and is a player that will be very key in the game. Neal has completed 66% of his passes and has thrown 13 touchdowns and six interceptions. Neal is also quick with his feet and is not afraid to scramble out of the pocket if he has too. I don't expect Favre to start, however coach Simpson would neither confirm or deny that he will play Saturday. If Favre does, than he will most likely play the backup role. The Skyhawks also have a good running attack, lead by Abou Toure. Toure ran for a career high 234-yards and three touchdowns last week against Murray State and has looked very good this season. At 6-foot-2 and 230 lbs, he is not your average running back.
4) What should MSU fans expect to see from the Skyhawks on defense? Which players should Bulldog fans watch?
JP: This is a Skyhawk defense that is only returning four starters from last year, so there are some holes in this defense that can be exploited. The Skyhawks love to get pressure on the quarterback and do have a very talented defensive line. However, UTM cannot contain the passing game, allowing an average of 244 passing yards per game. As far as players to watch on defense, the main one is linebacker Tony Bell. He's quick and can get into the backfield in a hurry. He was an All-American last year for many different sports publications and this season was listed on the watch list for the Buck Buchanan award given to the top defensive player in the FCS.
5) How has the season gone for the Skyhawks this year?
JP: The season for the Skyhawks did not start the way many fans were expecting. UTM started the season 1-5, the worst start to a season under coach Simpson since 2007 when they started 0-6. However, they've won four games in a row and are now sitting at 5-5 and 4-3 in the OVC. The Skyhawks also won the Sgt. Alvin York Trophy, given to the top OVC football member from the state of Tennessee (We compete with Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State and Austin Peay). The Skyhawks are now sitting at fourth in the OVC standings, a spot higher than they were predicted at the OVC media day.