By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
The Colonels needed a chance to regroup — both physically and mentally — before perparing for a run at an Ohio Valley Conference championship.
And an open week, perfectly placed right in the middle of a 12-game schedule, was the chance to do just that.
“It gave us an opportunity to get our guys healthy,” EKU defensive lineman David Carter said. “We feel like we did that. We were off Monday and Friday of last week and we practiced Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday. They were productive practices.”
After a week off, the Colonels (3-3, 1-1 OVC) are set to return to action today at Roy KIdd Stadium against long-time OVC rival Tennessee Tech (3-4, 0-3).
Kickoff for the Homecoming Game is set for 3 p.m.
The Colonels wrapped up the first half of the their season with a completely dominant 38-3 victory over Austin Peay on Oct. 5 at Roy Kidd Stadium.
During the open week, the focus was primarirly on getting healthy.
The time off certainly helped, but the banged-up Colonels still have significant injuries to deal with.
“We really got our healthy guys healthier,” EKU coach Dean Hood said. “All the guys that we hoped the open date would help — Shawn Shupperd (defensive lineman), Trey Thomas (defensive back), Ryan Garrettson (offensive lineman), Josh Minor (offensivel lineman) and Jermey James (fullback) — it just really hasn’t helped. We’ve just gotten healthier with some of the guys who were good for Austin Peay.”
All those players are questionable for the Homecoming showdown with Tennessee Tech.
In addition to those injuries, tight end Matt Lengel is out for the season. The senior recently had surgery on his knee for the second time.
“He decided to go ahead and get the surgery and we will try to get a sixth year through the NCAA,” Hood said of Lengel. “He’s a candidate for it. So, that’s our hope, to get a waver and get him back next year.”
The Colonels, however, are expected to have a couple of players back this week from injuries.
Senior center Austin Jaggers could make his season debut against Tech and kicker Andrew Lloyd will be back after a hamstring problem.
Redshirt freshman running back J.J. Jude sustained an ankle injury against Eastern Illinois and was cleared to play against Austin Peay, but didn’t get into the game.
He will be back in the lineup today against the Golden Eagles.
Despite missing several starters and key reserves, the Colonels put together perhaps their best all-around effort of the season against Austin Peay. EKU rushed for 321 yards and limited the Govs to just six yards rushing and 108 yards of total offense.
The Colonels allowed only six first downs, which was the fewest the team had given up in 20 years.
“We like to pride ourselves on stopping the run and we gave up (some big runs) against Coastal Carolina and that sickened us because we are better than that,” Carter said.
The Colonels currently lead the OVC in both rush defense (104.5 yards a game) and rushing offense (224 yards a game).
With Jude out of the lineup, senior Caleb Watkins had two touchdowns runs and Thomas Owens rushed for 100 yards. Jared Sanders also had 59 yards on 15 carries.
All four backs have seen an almost equal amount of touched through the first six games of the season — and that rotations seems to be working for the Colonels.
“I don’t mind four guys getting 50 yards (each) if we get 200 yards rushing,” Hood said. “But, if one guy gets 200, or two guys get 100 each, then I don’t really care.”
Tennessee Tech has dropped its first three OVC contests this season, all by double-digit margins. The Golden Eagles fell at home to UT-Martin last Thursday and have had nine days to prepare for the Colonels.
EKU has won five of the past six meetings between the long-time rivals, but the Golden Eagles beat the Colonels two years ago at Roy Kidd Stadium.
Tennessee Tech is eighth in the OVC in the rushing (138.7 yards a game) and seventh in the league in total offense (313.6 yards a game).
The Golden Eagles lead the OVC in red zone offense, scoring on 20-of-22 chances (17 TDs, three field goals).
Senior Zach Zielger is fifth in the league in receptions (5.0 a game) and Ladaruis Vanlier, a sophomore, is fifth in the OVC in all-purpose yardage (120.3 yards a game).
Last season, the Golden Eagles took an eight-point lead early in the fourth quarter before the Colonels scored the final 22 points of the game and went on to pick up a 42-28 win in Cookeville, Tenn.
“I think they know the intensity that we bring and they want to try and meet that or exceed that,” Carter said. “They always have a good running game and if they can get going on the ground, they are hard to beat because they always have nice receivers on the outside.”
The Colonels have won six-straight Homecoming games.
EKU also has 51 wins all-time against Tech, which is tied for the most in school history against one opponent (Morehead State 51).