It's surprising, I know, but I'm not an expert on the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles. I know that their offense put up 63 points against an NAIA team last weekend, but other than that I was pretty lost.
Fortunately, there are people out there who know a lot more about the Golden Eagles than I do. Thomas Corhern is one of them- he's the assistant sports editor and Tennessee Tech football beat reporter for the Cookeville Herald-Citizen, and he was kind enough to answer a few questions that I had about the Golden Eagles before Saturday's game.
Give me a quick history of Tennessee Tech as a football program. Is this a team that's accustomed to success, or one trying to build their way up?
Thomas Corhern: It's kind of a mixed history. The Golden Eagles are the second-most successful program in the Ohio Valley Conference's history, which started in the 1948 season, when it comes to championships won (Eastern Kentucky is the leader in OVC titles), and Tech's most recent OVC crown came in the 2011 season. Their peak was in the '50s and the '70s with some good seasons here and there.
But this isn't a slouch program. Again, the team won the 2011 OVC championship and looked to make a repeat performance last season until a crazy amount of injuries crept up and knocked out a lot of players.
Honestly, I believe this Tech team is one on the rise. The team has gotten consistently better since I've covered them and could be a dark horse in the Ohio Valley this season as a lot of people aren't expecting much from them because of last season's performance.
63 points is nothing to sneeze at- what kind of offense do the Golden Eagles run, and were people surprised when they hung that many points on Cumberland?
TC: Not really. Cumberland is an NAIA team looking to reclassify as an NCAA Division II program. They're located about 45 minutes away from Cookeville and Tennessee Tech, plus Tech assistant head coach Dwayne Alexander was the head coach at CU the last seven years.
Still, not to sell Cumberland short, it's a similar situation like the Golden Eagles are looking to this weekend as they head to Camp Randall. The talent level between Tech and Cumberland wasn't all that different, but the fast pace -- dubbed "The Fastest 60 Minutes in Football" -- wore down the Bulldogs and had to go deep into their roster. That said, Tech will probably slow the game down a bit to try to run out as much time off the clock.
The Golden Eagles are pretty balanced on running and passing and can try to spread the ball around a bit on the passing game. Junior quarterback Darian Stone started the last four games of last season and has shown a lot of progress in the offseason and last week's game against Cumberland. He has a lot of young receivers to throw to, plus Tech also has a solid group of backs including Bud Golden and Ladarius Vanlier who can provide some action on the ground.
What should we expect to see when the Golden Eagles are on defense this Saturday? What kind of scheme do they run?
TC: Last season, injuries hit the defense hard, especially on the secondary. The positive out of it was almost all of those guys are back, plus all the young guys that had to fill in. They run a 3-3-5 -- three up front, three linebackers and five in the secondary.
Who are the key playmakers on offense and defense this season?
TC: Of course, it starts with quarterback Darian Stone. At W-back, Cody Matthews and Maleek Hall had great games last week, then fifth-year player Zack Ziegler and Ladarius Vanlier can be kind of a flex player at A-back, figuring into some pass plays. Vanlier set a school record with a 93-yard punt return for a touchdown last week.
At B-back, Bud Golden and Stephen Bush will probably get the bulk of the carries, while Stone does like to call his own number and run with the ball just as much as he throws.
At receiver, they're all young guys -- sophomores or redshirt freshmen -- but have looked great so far. Krys Cates and Neil Gannaway had some solid plays last week, and Steve Wilson has impressed me in the preseason, looking like he learned some lessons from Da'Rick Rogers when he was in Cookeville last season.
On defense, there's still a lot of youth in the linebackers with a lot of sophomores, but they're playing well, including Midoho Okpokowuruk and Jay Rudwall. Junior Tra'Darius Goff will make a lot of plays. At the secondary, watch out for Austin Tallant, Marty Jones and Cory Webber.
Last but not least is Tech's All-American punter Chad Zinchini. He's got a great leg and can kick it pretty deep.
A lot of FCS programs pulled off big upsets and took down FBS foes last weekend- does Tennessee Tech have what it takes to follow that trend, or will they be in for a rough day at Camp Randall Stadium?
TC: That's tough to say. The players and the coaches know what they're in for when they play these games. And in Tech's history, the Golden Eagles are 0-29 in these contests, 0-9 under head coach Watson Brown -- which included stops at Georgia, Iowa, Arkansas, Auburn, TCU and Oregon last season. These are mainly fun trips for these guys and a chance to get ready for Ohio Valley Conference play.
The important thing for Tech is to avoid the injuries the Golden Eagles received in Eugene last season as that ended up reversing the fortunes of the team as Tech saw player after player go down in that game and the next few contests.
For every contest like Eastern Illinois (a fellow OVC team and the conference preseason favorite) beating San Diego State, there's Austin Peay losing to Tennessee 45-0 (or the Governors' huge loss to the Badgers two seasons ago.)
I'd like to think Tech could put up a fight -- and probably will for a while (Tech actually held leads at Arkansas and Oregon) -- I think it's more realistic that they're not going to take any chances with personnel after last season's results.
Thanks again to Thomas for filling us in on the Golden Eagles. Check out more of his work at the Cookeville Herald-Citizen.
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