The Other Huddle: Tennessee-Martin

It is homecoming week at Mississippi State this weekend as the Skyhawks of Tennessee-Martin come to town. UTM enters the game with a record of 5-5. Josh Lemons, sports reporter for the Jackson Sun was kind enough to share his thoughts on this weekend's match-up in this week's edition of The Other Huddle.

Tennessee-Martin began the season pretty slow, but the Skyhawks have won four games in a row to reach the .500 mark. Lemons reports that the team has been able to avoid self inflicted injuries during the winning streak.

"The biggest thing they have done is limit turnovers," Lemons shared. "The Skyhawks struggled with the turnover margin in their first six games. Abou Toure was even benched at one point during the losing streak for putting the ball on the ground but he has done a better job securing the football as of late. Also, the ground game, mainly thanks to the play of Toure has improved, helping open up big plays in the passing game. The Skyhawks ability to play two-dimensional on offense is key for their success."

Running back Abou Toure was the Ohio Valley Conference player of the week last week after a huge game on the road against rival Murray State. Toure appears to have turned things around after some difficulties earlier in the season. He will be a name Bulldog fans hear often on Saturday.

"Toure has been criticized by head coach Jason Simpson, especially early in the season but Simpson said after the 62-38 win over Murray State, a game in which Toure ran for 234 yards and three scores, he was proud of how Toure responded to the criticism," explained Lemons. "Simpson believes Toure is playing some of his best football down the stretch."

The Tennessee-Martin offense has been a lot more explosive as of late and some of the credit belongs to quarterback, Jarod Neal. Neal has been instrumental in the Skyhawks quartet of recent wins.

"Quarterback Jarod Neal is a solid pocket-passer and will probably get the majority of snaps under center against Mississippi State Saturday," Lemons shared. "He seems, at least in Simpson's eyes, to manage the game better this season. He will not beat you with his legs but he does have the ability to scramble out of the pocket to find the open receiver down field. That being said, if Simpson believes Favre, who is more of a utility quarterback, gives the team a better shot at competing, he will send (Dylan) Favre out to take the snaps."

Favre is a name that Mississippi State fans know extremely well. The former Bulldog signal caller landed at UT-Martin after a stint at Pearl River Community College.

"Favre just hasn't panned out the way Simpson hoped when he brought him in," Lemons stated. "Whether it was the lack of big time playmakers to help Favre (The Skyhawks have lost six players to the NFL over the last two seasons) or it was Favre not adapting quickly enough to Simpson's style and schemes will never truly be known. Simpson has insisted he was running a two-quarterback scheme all season but Dylan has been limited to the sidelines for the majority of the season. He did throw for 205 yards and two scores, completing 11 of his 17 passes in a 37-7 win over Austin Peay on senior day. Simpson said it was important for Favre to take some meaningful reps on senior day, which was also the Skyhawks' homecoming."

While a win this weekend in Davis Wade Stadium is probably asking a bit much of the Skyhawks, it appears that brighter days lie ahead.

"Not sure if you can call the season a success although they did win the Sgt. York Trophy and beat their longest OVC rival, Murray State," Lemons explained. "The one thing you can take away from the season is the Skyhawks are playing their best ball down the stretch and you are not losing a lot of quality playmakers on either side of the ball with the exception of senior linebacker Tony Bell. Neal will return for his senior year at quarterback. Hopefully playing SEC teams like Kentucky and No. 1 ranked Mississippi State will better prepare them for their schedule next season which includes road games against Ole Miss and Arkansas."


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