For every Ohio football game, Speakeasy Sports will be going into the den of the opponent to get first-hand analysis. By reaching out to team beat reporters and opposing players, Speakeasy provides a unique look-in at how the ‘Cats will fare against their adversaries. In a question-and-answer format, Speakeasy chats with another team’s reporter to gain a new perspective on Ohio’s opponents. Also, we will be chatting with other team’s players in a podcast format that appears after the Q&A.
This week, Speakeasy talks to Luke Thompson, Austin Peay State University sports reporter at The Leaf-Chronicle. You can follow him on Twitter at @LC_LukeT.
Speakeasy Sports: Last season Ohio had a consistent 100-yard rusher in Beau Blankenship, but has been spreading carries around this year. Last week, Chattanooga used multiple backs to compile over 250 yards on the ground. What problems are you seeing with the Governors’ front seven?
Luke Thompson: Some of it is not having the athletes. They lost their best defensive end to a torn Achilles before the season even started, so that hurt a lot. Last week was actually kind of different. I’m not exactly sure what Ohio runs, but Chattanooga runs a spread-out option attack where they have a lot receivers running across the formation. Austin Peay couldn’t hold the edges very well at all, and that created a lot of problems for them. They actually looked pretty solid against Vanderbilt the week before for the first quarter. They came out, and they were emotionally ready in that one. So that’s what they’re going to have to do. They’re going to have to bring maximum energy to really have a chance shut down the ground game. They don’t have the athletes to beat up most teams.
SS: Austin Peay has been buried early on in their first three games, and only putting up 13 points on offense doesn’t help with its scoring problems. Which player on offense has the play-making capabilities to get the Governors out of this scoring slump?
LT: I haven’t seen anybody really. Tim Phillips, he’s their running back, he led them in rushing in all three games. He’s the closest thing they have to any player on offense. There’s a lot of issues with the passing game right now, and that’s what coach Kirby Cannon wants to rely on. So until they get that figured out, they’re not going to be doing a whole lot especially against a team like Ohio.
SS: How have teams been attacking the Austin Peay defense early on in games? Have big plays been abundant through the first three seasons?
LT: Actually not really. Tennessee had a 48-yard touchdown run early but didn’t have another one over 23 yards. Vanderbilt had a long pass to Jordan Matthews, but not much else. I guess that’s one area where maybe you could say they’ve done all right in. They limited big plays, but when you can’t stop teams from getting first downs, it doesn’t really matter.
SS: From last season to this season, have there been any major institutional changes in schemes and play calling that you have been noticing?
LT: Definitely. They brought in a new coach. There are a lot of different things. The main thing is that they rely on the passing game now, and last year it was all about the run and to keep possession of the ball. This year they’ve gone with more of the spread/pistol attack rather than the pro formation they had last year. More short passes, trying to get quick reads down. Eventually they want to get to where they can take some deep shots too. Right now the pass protection and the quarterback play isn’t good enough.
SS: Since the first game against Tennessee, has the secondary improved, or do they still look pretty lost?
LT: They haven’t looked great. They were one of the worst secondary groups in the country last year statistically. It’s tough to tell when games get put out of reach so early, but they’ve definitely had their issues in coverage.
SS: Have you seen any strengths that Austin Peay may have that can play as an advantage against the Bobcats?
LT: (Laughs). Hard to say. I guess Tim Phillips is a guy, when given the open field, that can do some things. He was a running back at Central Michigan, so you can see he has some Division I talent. The run defense needs to have energy. It’s hard to say when you haven’t had a lot of success in the first three games against talented opponents.
SS: Before I let you go, can you give me your score prediction for the game on Saturday?
LT: I don’t see Austin Peay getting a touchdown. 45-3, maybe somewhere in that area.
On the first episode of the Speakeasy Sports Know Your Enemy podcast, host Zak Kolesar chats with Austin Peay running back Tim Phillips and safety Johnathan Shuler: