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TTU Silver lining despite loss
The score may not have been pretty Saturday night as Tennessee Tech fell 44-3 in its opener against No. 17 Arkansas, but the Golden Eagles had plenty to be happy about.
“I thought our kids really competed well,” said Tech coach Watson Brown during this morning’s Ohio Valley Conference teleconference. “We hung in there. I didn’t think we played real well – I think we can play a lot better than we did. There were some composure things that we haven’t done here in the past.”
Tech started off with a solid drive, going from their own 39, then getting to the Arkansas 1 seven plays later as quarterback Tre Lamb completed a 39-yard pass to Henry Sailes, which arguably could have been a touchdown.
With the box loaded, the Golden Eagles were held to a field goal as the definite size advantage for the Razorback defense created an impenetrable wall. But either way, the Tech offense executed a solid drive to take a 3-0 lead on Arkansas, one that held until early on in the second quarter.
A lot of that was helped by good defense play. Arkansas was felled by a penalty in its first drive that led to a turnover on downs, but cornerback Dustin Dillehay came up with a big pickoff at the Tech 32, which would give Dillehay some nice stories to tell if Arkansas quarterback Ryan Mallett does go on to win the Heisman Trophy in December.
Tech had a chance to end another Razorback drive with a turnover in the first quarter, as Marty Jones forced Knile Davis to fumble the ball, but Arkansas’ Zhamal Thomas was able to fall on it. In the same drive, Dillehay followed suit, getting Dennis Johnson to cough up the ball, but D.J. Williams was able to atone for his teammate’s miscue.
Richmond Tooley was also able to get an interception in the contest as he picked off backup quarterback Tyler Wilson at the Tech 8 early in the fourth quarter.
“For us to come out plus-3 in the turnover ratio in the game – with us none, and Arkansas three – that’s the No. 1 stat in college football, I think,” Brown said. “We were right at the top of the OVC last year where we were dead last the year before. We’re off to a good start with that. We were rather conservative. We will play much more wide-open ball as we get down into the league. Again, we did take care of the ball. Our quarterbacks took care of the ball. A lot of passes and pitches, balls on the flanks – we took care of the ball, then we knocked three loose. That’s what kept the score close for the first couple of quarters.”
The Golden Eagles did force three fourth-downs for the Razorbacks, as Arkansas was 5-for-8 on third-down conversions.
So while the Razorbacks was able to put 519 yards of offense on the Tech defense, there were plenty of bright spots. With a high-caliber quarterback like Mallett collecting 301 yards and three touchdowns on 21-of-24 passing, the big yardage total wasn’t much of a surprise.
A big negative was on the kicking game as Brown felt the momentum shift started there.
“That’s what turned it around,” Brown said. “We dropped two kickoffs in the end zone trying to bring them out – got one at the 3 and another at the 9. We averaged 29.6 yards a punt for the night and punted eight times. We had terrible field position after the first quarter.”
But how does this game stack up with last year’s Southeastern Conference matchup? Much better, actually.
Against the Georgia Bulldogs, Tech was held to a scant 55 yards of offense and completely shut out. On Saturday, the Golden Eagles had 187 yards of offense with the opening drive field goal to show for it. Surprisingly, the Golden Eagles led on possession time, holding on to the ball for a full seven minutes more than the Razorbacks, showing Tech was able to keep the ball moving to a degree. The Golden Eagles were able to average 3.3 yards per play, an increase of 2.1 yards over their showing at Georgia.
Protection was a key, though. Tech’s quarterbacks were sacked six times at Georgia. Against Arkansas? Twice.
Defensively, it’s a bit negligible. Tech yielded 519 yards for the ranked Razorbacks, while Georgia only put up 469 yards on the Golden Eagles a year ago. Getting turnovers was something they weren’t able to do last year though.
The main goal of those Football Bowl Subdivision matchups is to get the paycheck and stay healthy, something the Golden Eagles were able to manage well. Offensive guard Scott Schweitzer was really the only notable injury but it wasn’t a serious one as it was just a rolled ankle.
Things don’t get any easier this week for the Golden Eagles as they take on No. 6 ranked Texas Christian, Tech’s first ever game against a team that played in a Bowl Championship Series contest a season earlier.
“We’ve got to do it all again this week,” Brown said. “I think our team got better. We didn’t hurt anybody seriously in the game – just some bumps and bruises. Now, we go and play a team that’s even better than the one we played. If we can come out of it healthy, we will be a better team.”
By Thomas Corhern, Herald Citizen