Austin Peay at Chattanooga
When: Saturday, Sept. 14, 2013. 6 p.m. ET
Where: Chattanooga, Tenn.
Austin Peay at a glance:
Head coach: Kirby Cannon (1st season at Austin Peay)
All-time record: 276-473-16
2012 record: 2-9 (1-7 OVC)
It was a season to forget for the Governors – who only mustered one conference win and lost nine games, all by at least 15 points. The troubles were on both sides of the ball, too, as the defense gave up at least 40 points in six contests, while the offense failed to accumulate more than two scores in all but four contests.
The Govs did show some degree of improvement by the end of the season, though. In their final three games, APSU knocked off NAIA opponent Culver-Stockton 56-0, had its most competitive loss in a 38-23 defeat at Jacksonville State and capped the season with a somewhat surprising 38-31 win over Tennessee Tech.
It wasn’t enough to salvage much from the 2012 season, but did give the Govs something to build on heading into 2013. Former head coach Rick Christophel stepped down after the season, and former Central Michigan defensive backs coach Kirby Cannon was hired as his replacement in March.
Three questions for the 2013 matchup:
Can Chattanooga slow down the Govs’ ground game?
It won’t be like squaring off against Southern Conference foes Georgia Southern or Wofford, but the Mocs’ defensive emphasis heading into this one will probably be on stopping the run. The Governors were pretty bad offensively in 2012, ranking last in the nine-team Ohio Valley Conference in scoring offense (20.4 ppg) and total offense (349.9 ypg), but they did have some success running the football. Running back Kitt Wesley eclipsed the 100-yard mark in three of APSU’s first five games before the senior was suspended for a violation of team rules, missing the final six games. Redshirt freshman Reco Williams filled in, though, and the Governors hardly missed a beat. The 6-1, 250-pound Clarksville native barreled his way to 514 yards and a pair of rushing scores, averaging nearly five yards per carry. APSU will also be breaking in a new quarterback this fall – probably junior Jacob Sexton, whose only attempted seven passes in his career – so expect plenty of running from the Governors in 2013.
How much better will APSU’s defense be?
The Governors have plenty of experience returning on that side of the ball, including the team’s top five tacklers from 2012. Seniors Craig Salley and Josh Carroll are both back at linebacker. Safeties Steven Rich and Jonathan Shuler return to the secondary after successful 2012 campaigns, while former walk-on Earnest Smith returns for his final season at defensive end. The 6-2, 233-pound Clarksville native collected a team-leading four sacks and nine tackles for loss last season. Who knows if all that experience will translate into any more success, though.
Will UTC be focused on the Austin Peay, or looking forward to Georgia Southern?
Anytime you’re facing a seemingly inferior opponent, there’s always a chance of overlooking them, and when that happens, there’s a chance of getting beat. When you’re already looking forward to next week’s opponent, that chance quickly becomes a probability. The Mocs might be favorites heading into this one, but they’ll have to do more than just show up to ensure a victory. The temptation to look ahead to Georgia Southern is certainly understandable, though, especially after their last two matchups with the Eagles. UTC suffered a 28-27 road setback to GSU in 2011, and last season’s 39-31, triple-overtime loss at Finley Stadium will still be fresh in the players’ minds.
How will it play out?
With a new coaching staff coming in, there are still plenty of unknowns, but like their first two opponents of 2013, the Mocs appear to have the advantage on paper in this one. In no way does that guarantee wins, though. UTC is undefeated in the all-time series against the Governors, but the two teams haven’t squared off since 1968. Depending on how the first two play out for the Mocs, they could be eyeing a 3-0 start heading into SoCon play. A win over the Govs would certainly help boost momentum, but Chattanooga’s first true test of the season appears to be its Sept. 28 trip to Statesboro, Ga.
Michael Murphy covers UTC athletics for Nooga.com. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelNooga.