After a day away, we're back with our "Know Thy Enemy" series. You know it as our weekly look at what's going on with the Badgers' opponent that week, but right now it's all about getting to know these squads as camp is well underway.
So, following our debut with BYU we take a look at another non-conference opponent, this time it's the Golden Eagles of Tennessee Tech out of the FCS (Football Championship Subdivision if you need reminding). Last season wasn't exactly pretty for TTU, finishing the year 3-8.
Joining us to talk all things Golden Eagles is Thomas Corhern, the assistant sports editor from the Cookeville Herald-Citizen (the hometown newspaper for TTU). Without further delay here's what you need to know heading into the season about the Golden Eagles.
MadTownBadgers: First things first... Who are players Wisconsin fans should get to know heading into the season?
Thomas Corhern: On offense, quarterback Darian Stone. He came into the final four games of the season last year as Tech's starting quarterback after Tre Lamb, now the team's quarterback coach, went down with a shoulder injury. Stone saw impressive improvement through those four games, then turned it up a huge notch during spring practice. He's a mobile quarterback, but he's not afraid to pass it either. He's also a little bit of gunslinger and has a really quick release on his passes.
On defense, free safety Marty Jones. Jones missed the last two years — including Tech's Ohio Valley Conference championship run in 2011 — but make no mistake, he is one of the best defensive players on the team.
MTB: What position group is strongest on this team and why?
Thomas Corhern: It's almost hard to quantify which position group is the strongest, because the Golden Eagles were riddled with so many injuries last year. There were a lot of players who normally wouldn't have started because they were freshmen and sophomores, but had to be thrown in. That's leaving a lot of groups on this team with a fairly deep roster. Just looking down the line, Tech has six quarterbacks, nine wide receivers, a lot of linemen and a fairly deep secondary. Through the first week of camp, it's hard to tell just yet which group is going to pull away as they're still trying to gel.
MTB: Last season this team struggled offensively. How has this group looked so far in camp? Who's leading that unit?
Thomas Corhern: In their first scrimmage on Saturday, Tech looked a lot better on offense, but the Golden Eagles also rotated a lot around in their quarterbacks. Stone didn't play a lot of series, but threw two touchdowns and 97 yards on 8-for-16 passing. Freshman transfer Charlie High was the most efficient, going 6-for-7 for 35 yards. Redshirt freshman Jared Davis was 12-for-19 for 111 yards. So they're moving the ball. I believe the injuries made the stats look as low as they did last season, especially considering Tech had Tennessee transfer Da'Rick Rogers, who came out on fire, then slowed a step as he got a hip pointer at Southeast Missouri. 2013 should be a bit of return to form for Tech on offense, especially since head coach Watson Brown is an offensive minded coach.
MTB: FCS football isn't exactly a known quantity in these parts as its FBS or D3. What is your perception of the quality level of the football overall?
Thomas Corhern: FCS seems to me to be a more blue-collar level of Division I football compared to the FBS. They don't have the budgets or even the attention of their bigger brothers. But these guys have heart. A lot of them know they probably aren't going to make it to play on Sundays, but they're out there giving it everything they can to keep that dream alive and play football. And there have been some great players come out of the FCS level.
The quality level is very much improving, especially when teams like Appalachian State, Georgia Southern and Elon are being snatched up to join some of the smaller tier FBS conferences. Even though everyone thought Appalachian State beating Michigan a few years back was a fluke, there still tends to be one of those upsets every year, and I think there were a few last year. Tech, however, has never won one of these games, and is 0-9 under Watson Brown, losing to Oregon last year, Iowa in 2011, Arkansas and TCU in 2010, Kansas State and Georgia in 2009, Louisville and Western Michigan in 2008 and Auburn in 2007.
MTB: What is your biggest worry & biggest positive coming out of camp so far?
Thomas Corhern: My biggest worry comes from last year. After seeing 57 players injured at one time during the team's open date last season with anything from a sprained ankle to requiring surgery, I got to see first hand how much that can decimate a team as Tech went from defending conference champs to the bottom. Sure, it was a fluke, but you have to hope that doesn't happen again.
But that creates the positive on the flip side. The Golden Eagles have so much depth at several positions, perhaps even more than they did the year they won the OVC championship. And with the fast pace the team employs, that may become an advantage.
MTB: Finish this sentence: 2013 is a success if...
Thomas Corhern: 2013 is a success if the Golden Eagles claim a bid to the expanded FCS Playoffs. With 24 teams now eligible for the postseason tournament, the Ohio Valley Conference has a chance this year to send someone besides just the regular-season champion. 2011 was the first time Tech had reached the playoffs and the Golden Eagles would like to get back there.
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