(19) Tennessee State (10-3) at (2) Eastern Illinois (11-1)
The Sports Network
By Brandon Lawrence, FCS Assistant
DATE & TIME: Saturday, December 7, 2 p.m. (ET).
FACTS & STATS: Site: O'Brien Field (10,000) -- Charleston, Illinois. Surface: Matrix Turf. Television: ESPN3.com. Announcers: Jim Barbar, Rocky Boiman. Home Record: Tennessee State 3-2; Eastern Illinois 5-0. Away Record: Tennessee State 5-1; Eastern Illinois 6-1. Neutral Record: Tennessee State 2-0; Eastern Illinois 0-0. Series Record: Eastern Illinois (9-7). Last Meeting: October 26, 2013 (Eastern Illinois, 34-16 at Tennessee State). Series Streak: Tennessee State has won three of the last five meetings. Conference: Tennessee State - Ohio Valley; Eastern Illinois - Ohio Valley. Nicknames: Tennessee State Tigers; Eastern Illinois Panthers. Sports Network FCS Ranking: Tennessee State (19); Eastern Illinois (2). NCAA Playoff Seedings: Tennessee State (NS); Eastern Illinois (2). Head Coaches: Tennessee State - Rod Reed, fourth season, 26-20 at Tennessee State and overall; Eastern Illinois - Dino Babers, second season, 18-6 at Eastern Illinois and overall. Playoff Records: Tennessee State (3-5); Eastern Illinois (3-14). Previous FCS Playoff Appearances: Tennessee State 5 (1981-82, 1986, 1998-99, 1981-82 appearances were later voided by NCAA); Eastern Illinois 14 (1982-83, 1986, 1989, 1995-96, 2000-02, 2005-07, 2009, 2012). Current Playoff Streak: Tennessee State has lost three of its last four playoff games; Eastern Illinois has lost 11 straight playoff games.
GAME NOTES: Tennessee State knows exactly what it feels like to be blanked.
The Tigers were shut out by Eastern Kentucky to start the month of November, 44-0. In three games since that loss, Tennessee State has given up a combined total of 16 points and scored 79 in that span. That includes last weekend's 31-0 shutout of Pioneer Football League playoff representative Butler in Indiana. No disrespect to Butler, but the Bulldogs offense was no match for Tennessee State's defense.
What a turnaround for the Tigers, now having to take on the nation's most potent offense in Charleston, Ill. Panthers senior quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo leads the nation in passing touchdowns (48), passing yards (4,489), passing yards per game (374.1) and points responsible for (308), has completed 65 percent of his passes and has only thrown eight interceptions in 492 pass attempts. And ... inhale.
This matchup can be intriguing on so many levels, though. Tennessee State's defense is ranked fourth in the nation in scoring, as the Tigers hold their opponents to an average of 15.5 points per game. They're also fourth in the FCS in passes intercepted with 20, helped by junior defensive back Daniel Fitzpatrick's nation-leading eight interceptions.
What makes it even more exciting is the conference rivalry. These two Ohio Valley Conference teams finished one-two in the regular-season standings.
They met head-to-head back on Oct. 26, and the outcome is one Tennessee State would ideally like to forget. The Panthers, in Nashville, won easily, 34-16. And that included a Tigers garbage-time touchdown. Garoppolo had 410 passing yards and four touchdowns in that contest, with one interception.
Eastern Illinois hasn't lose a game to an FCS opponent this season, and at home, the Panthers should be able to pick apart the Tigers for a second time this season.
For those concerned about injury status - Erik Lora (missed the final game of the regular season) is healthy and will play Saturday. So will running back Taylor Duncan (missed two games) and receiver Keiondre Gober (missed final three games).
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Eastern Illinois 38, Tennessee State 25.
12/04 11:05:40 ET