Tennessee-Martin owes the SEC a big favor and it has something substantial to look at because of that.
The FCS Skyhawks (5-2) will visit Arkansas (4-3) – their fourth SEC foe in two years - Saturday at 3 p.m. for a Homecoming game that is all about putting money into a $6.5 million renovation of Hardy M. Graham Stadium, which seats 7,500.
“It is my 16th FBS school in my 10 years here and you are right in that it is fourth in the last two years,” Tennessee-Martin head coach Jason Simpson said on his league’s teleconference on Wednesday.
“It came about when we came up short in our project for the improvement of the stadium. We had an open date and they did so we appreciate the opportunity.
“We had to take this game to keep our project going. We needed that guaranteed money and that’s why we took the game to have an 11-game season.”
The Skyhawks have Arkansas flavor in that offensive coordinator John Bond is a Rogers native and was a Razorback player and was a former assistant under Lou Holtz and Ken Hatfield at the school after a career-ending injury.
“Every once in while he shares some stories, whether it be Coach Holtz or Coach Hatfield or Tim Horton and the different guys he played with in Arkansas’ great history,” Simpson said. “It’s been kind of neat.
“I am excited that he will get to go back and I think that where we are staying Friday night that he will get to see his parents and family and friends. It should be a good trip for him.”
Tennessee-Martin opened its 2015 season with a 76-3 loss at Ole Miss.
“It hasn’t hurt our mindset,” Simpson said. “These kids dream about playing those kinds of stadium and against those types of teams in that kind of environment.
“So that’s a big plus for us. It is a plus for us in recruiting because kids want to have a chance to play in those types of venues.
“Now where it hurt us this year – and this is the first time that it has happened in my career – we have not got over the injury bug since the Ole Miss game.
“I looked at the injury report today and there were 26 guys on it and six guys out. We have not recovered from that Ole Miss game.
“Fortunately we have played through it because we have still got some good players, but that is the biggest thing that got us this year is that there were some injuries coming out of the Ole Miss game and some guys never have recovered.”
Tennessee-Martin followed up that Ole Miss loss by hanging with Jacksonville State, the FCS’ top-ranked team and one that nearly upset Auburn, in what turned into a 47-42 loss.
“If you are a competitor be it NAIA or Division III or whoever you play," Simpson said, "we all will prepare and have belief by Wednesday when we put the game plan together that we will be ready to go and play.
“This is not like the World Series where you have got to win four out of seven. It’s like when we drop down and play Bethel, my comment to the team was that they have only got to beat you one time.”
Simpson, who notes that he has been playing with just three healthy receivers the past five weeks, listed things that would have to happen for the upset.
“Multiple turnovers, touchdowns in the red zone – those type of things,” Simpson said. “You got back to 2012 and we lined up and beat a Memphis team that is not the same Memphis team they are playing with today and certainly not this Arkansas team.
“But we experienced that and it was a great feather in our kids and the program’s hat.”
Tennessee-Martin trailed by 14 last week, but rallied past Murray State 52-45 to extend its winning streak to four games.
“We were certainly fortunate to win the game,” Simpson said. “I figured it would be a high-scoring affair. Didn’t know how we would arrive at that. You would rather get a big lead early…and then hold on, but we fought our way back and I think that is a credit to our kids and our coaches.”
The Skyhawks rolled up 661 yards total offense, including 420 passing yards by senior quarterback Jarod Neal (6-1, 210), the Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week.
“He is a good player,” Simpson said. “He is a program kid. I think we were his only offer out of high school and we saw him in a one-day camp.
“He has an extremely good release, a good arm, great leadership. He is probably the most prepared kid I have ever had in terms of a quarterback to walk out there and play and we have had a couple of good ones here in Derek Carr and Cade Thompson.
“He gives us a chance every week.”