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By Rob Schabert, Assistant Athletic Director for Sports Information
COOKEVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Tech football team faces one of its biggest challenges of the season Saturday when the Golden Eagle line up against the No. 2 ranked team in the Football Championship Subdivision. Tech (3-6/0-5 OVC) visits Eastern Illinois (7-1/4-0 OVC) for a noon kickoff in O'Brien Stadium, looking to snap the nation's third-longest home winning streak.
Saturday's game will mark the 20th meeting between Tech and Eastern Illinois, with the Panthers owning a 13-6 advantage in the all-time series. Tech has won three games at O'Brien Field, including the last time the Golden Eagles made the journey to Charleston, Ill. That came in the 2011 meeting when the Golden Eagles limited the Panthers to negative six rushing yards, the second lowest total in EIU school history. TTU went on to win the OVC title that year.
Eastern Illinois is ranked second in the FCS polls, bringing a 7-1 overall record into the contest. The lone blemish for the Panthers was a narrow, 43-39 loss to FBS foe Northern Illinois. In the season opener, the Panthers stunned their other FBS opponent, winning at San Diego State. EIU leads the nation in total offense. The Panthers scored a season-low 34 points last Saturday against Tennessee State and what was the nation's No. 2 ranked scoring defense. EIU racked up 567 yards of total offense against TSU, the most yards TSU had allowed since 2011 in a loss to Air Force. The 34 points were the highest TSU had allowed this season. EIU's defense was the story of the victory over No. 21 TSU as the Panthers held them to only a field goal until the fourth quarter when EIU had the game in hand.
EIU owns the nation's third longest active home win streak at eight games and the nation's fourth longest active conference win streak at eight games. The Panthers have won eight straight at O'Brien Field with a 5-0 record last season and 3-0 mark to open this year.
EIU quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, one of the leading candidates for this year's Walter Payton Award, is the nation's leader in passing offense, passing touchdowns, total offense and points responsible for this season. Garoppolo won his sixth Ohio Valley Conference Offensive Player of the Week award on Sunday after passing for 410 yards against Tennessee State. Garoppolo needs one more OVC Player of the Week award this season to tie for the conference single season record and for the all-time award record.
The Golden Eagle defense brings the top two tacklers in the Ohio Valley Conference into the tilt. Junior linebacker Tra'Darius Goff currently ranks first in the OVC with 84, an average of 9.3 per game. Ranking second this week is junior saftey Marty Jones with 81, an average of 9.0 per game. Tech has four more tacklers in the Top 26 in the league, with Bill Dillard 19th, Blake Adams 22nd, Austin Tallant 25th and Jay Rudwall 26th.
Tech and Eastern Illinois are tied for fourth in the OVC in quarterback sacks, each getting to the opposing quarterback 17 times in 2013. For Tech, it has resulted in 105 yards in losses. For EIU, it's been for a total of 114 yards. Individually, Panther Pat Wertz is second in the OVC with 5.5 total sacks. Tech's Malcolm Mitchell is ranked sixth with 4.5 total sacks.
On the flip side, EIU ranks second in the OVC for the fewest sacks allowed. Opponents have sacked EIU signal callers just 13 times in eight games, for a total of 85 yards in losses. The Golden Eagles, meanwhile, rank ninth in the league, yielding 28 sacks against their quarterbacks for a total of 194 yards in losses.
Three players who figured to be the keys to Tech's offense are all lost for the season. Runningback Bud Golden suffered a broken leg against Indiana State, while receivers Zack Ziegler and Cody Matthews have each sustained concussions. Ziegler is out for the year, while a return for Matthews appears doubtful. Ziegler and Matthews rank first and second on the team in receptions this season.
Golden Eagle quarterback Darian Stone has been in-and-out of the lineup all season due to a couple of injuries. He has missed two games completely (Murray State and Eastern Kentucky). For the year, Stone has completed 50.8 percent of his passes (65-for-128) for 740 yards with four interceptions and four touchdowns, and owns a QB rating of 103.41. He has rushed 81 times for 117 yards, gaining 342 while being sacked 12 times for 146 yards.
Sophomore wide receiver Krys Cates had four catches for 48 yards including an 18-yard touchdown from Jared Davis at Eastern Kentucky. Against Jacksonville State, he pulled in a 33-yard touchdown pass from Stone. He currently ranks third on the team with 21 catches for 320 yards, and his 15.2 yards per catch is first on the team.
Linebackers Jay Rudwall and Blake Adams have split playing time at the "Bull" linebacker position, and have combined to make 93 total tackles. Adams has 50 tackles to rank fourth on the team while Rudwall has made 43 stops, ranking sixth. Each made nine tackles against Jacksonville State.
Sophomore Harrison Reid is second on the team with 6.0 tackles-for-loss, and has moved up to second on the depth chart.
Cornerback Demario Donnell ranks first on the team and fourth in the OVC in passes defended with nine. He is eighth on the team with 40 total tackles. He had eight tackles, broke up two passes and forced a fumble against UT Martin. Against Jacksonville State, he had five tackles and broke up three pass attempts.
Punter Chad Zinchini leads the OVC and ranks second nationally in punting average, at 47.1 yards per kick in 56 punts. He has 24 kicks of 50 yards or more, and has had 14 of his kicks downed inside the opponent 20-yard line. National FCS leaders:
Following the game at EIU, the Golden Eagles head to Cape Girardeau, Mo., next week (Nov. 9) to face Southeast Missouri in the team's final road game of the 2013 season. After an open date on Nov. 16, Tech wraps up the season with a home game on Nov. 23 against Austin Peay. That game will not only be Senior Day, as Tech rcognizes its 12 departing seniors, it is also Military Appreciation Day and Scout Day.
Records in 2013: Tennessee Tech is 3-6 overall / 2-3 at home / 1-3 on the road
No. 2 Eastern Illinois is 7-1 overall / 3-0 at home / 4-1 on the road
Series Record: Eastern Illinois leads the series, 13-6
Last Meeting: Eastern Illinois 31, Tennessee Tech 24, 2012 in Cookeville, Tenn.
Last Game: Tennessee Tech lost to Jacksonville State, 34-14, Oct. 26 in Cookeville
No. 2 Eastern Ill. beat No. 21 Tenn. State, 34-16, Oct. 26 in Nashville, Tenn.
Golden Eagle Sports Network (Roger Ealey, Buddy Pearson, Dylan Vazzano)
Internet Audio: www.Kissfm985.com for audio stream
Webstream: OVC Digital Network (produced by Eastern Illinois)
Live Stats: www.TTUsports.com
Tennessee Tech - www.TTUsports.com
Eastern Illinois - www.eiupanthers.com
Tech Social Media: TTU Sports (Facebook); @TTUGoldenEagles (Twitter)