Tennessee State Football Coach Eddie George after losing to UT Martin
Coach Eddie George discusses Tennessee State’s offensive struggles that have led to three straight games without a touchdown
Mike Organ, Nashville, Tennessee
The Tennessee State football team went on a three-game losing streak and ended coach Eddie George’s second season on Saturday with a 22-14 win over hosts Texas A&M-Commerce in what amounted to the final game.
TSU linebacker Darius Harper, who previously had two interceptions and a fumbled recovery, eluded TAMC receiver Andrew Armstrong in the back of the end zone in the final game to secure the win.
The Tigers finished with a 4-7 record, making George go 9-13 in two seasons.
TAMC (5-6) had marched 71 yards in three minutes and made the TSU 3 in the last game.
“Both defenses played well,” said George. “It was a tough win on the road for us. Last game of the year, technically we really had nothing to play but our boys fought hard and found a way to win it in the end.”
The Lions ended the season on a four-game losing streak.
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Darius Harper’s big day
TSU finally broke their touchdown slump and did it quickly. On the first game of scrimmage, Harper intercepted Lions quarterback Cameron Nellor and ran 28 yards down the right touchline for a touchdown.
It was the start of a monster day for Harper, a Ravenwood senior and son of former Tennessee Titan cornerback Nick Harper.
Harper’s touchdown came 13 seconds into the game and ended the Tigers’ touchdown slump after 12 quarters. It was Harper’s first interception of the season.
Harper came up with another revenue in the second quarter. He picked up a fumble caused by safety Gleson Sprewell and returned it 30 yards to the Lions 36.
That set up TSU’s second touchdown, which came nine games later, when Draylen Ellis ran four yards at a quarterback keeper to give the Tigers a 16-7 lead.
Harper intercepted Nellor again with 42 seconds remaining in the first half at the Lions 38, bringing it back to the 15. That led to a 36-yard field goal from Kaleb Mosley that gave the Tigers a 19-7 lead at halftime.
Harper also had five tackles.
The defense was without starting middle linebacker and lead tackler Jahsun Bryant (shoulder injury).
“Darius was big in the game,” said George. “It was really a brave performance from our defense; a few bodies down, the boys had to come in, get the next man up and find a way to win.”
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Another bad start
The offensive touchdown slump extended into 13 quarters before being cut short late in the second quarter when Ellis completed a 79-yard drive with a 4-yard keeper.
The offensive has played poorly again up to this point. The unit went three-and-out on their first three possessions and finished the first quarter with just 2 total yards.
Midway through the second quarter, TSU still had just 32 total yards and Ellis had been sacked three times.
The offense picked up momentum mid-game before faltering again towards the end.
The Tigers finished with 240 total yards while TAMC had 400.
On the plus side, the offensive didn’t have any turnovers and was 3-on-3 in the red zone after coming in last in the red zone in the OVC and scoring 17-of-23.
In an effort to boost offense, the Tigers shuffled their running backs.
The season’s leading rusher, Jalen Rouse, started for an eighth time but only played the first two series before coming out. He returned in the second half.
Tre Boone III replaced Rouse in the third series, gaining nine yards on three carries.
Freshman Jordan Gant replaced Boone in the next series, picking up 10 yards on his first carry.
Gant and Boone had only played one game each prior to Saturday and carried the ball just seven times each.
George said ahead of the game that he would likely give some young, less experienced players some playing time with an eye on the future.
Junior Devon Starling, the team’s second-best rusher, came midway through the second quarter and had more success than any other defender. He ran 50 yards on his first six carries and set up Ellis’ touchdown.
TSU finished with 114 rushing yards. Gant was the leading rusher with 54 yards on 11 carries, Starling had 49 yards on eight carries, Rouse had 32 yards on nine carries, and Boone had nine yards on four carries.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.