CLARKSVILLE, Tenn. (CLARKSVILLENOW) – A lot has changed in the Austin Peay State University football program since 2016.
For starters, the Governors are no longer owners of the longest active losing streak in the nation and are now among the 25 best FCS teams in the country, according to the 2020 HERO Sports Preseason Poll.
Former Austin Peay head football coach Will Healy helped right the proverbial ship during his Governor tenure, leading Austin Peay to an 8-4 record after back-to-back winless seasons.
After Healy left to find greener pastures in Charlotte, North Carolina, in stepped Mark Hudspeth at the helm for the Govs.
Last season under Hudspeth, Austin Peay reached never before seen heights, which culminated in an eventual OVC championship and an FCS playoff quarterfinal appearance.
Hudspeth’s resignation in July has now cleared the way for Austin Peay football interim head coach Marquase Lovings to continue the program’s ascension.
Thus far, Lovings has won the offseason in his press conferences, demonstrating a confident presence and poise to match.
There is no reason to believe Lovings isn’t capable of having similar success in the future to the likes of his predecessors.
Only time will tell, but the first litmus test for Lovings and company will be this Saturday, Aug. 29 in front of a nationally-televised audience when they square off against Central Arkansas in the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff game.
“I’m really not nervous,” Lovings said. “I’m more excited because of the people within our organization. Our offensive coordinator is back. Our defensive coordinator is back and the list goes on and on about stability within our program. That’s what excites me the most. Right now, I’m just worried about the preparation that it takes in order for our ducks to be in a row and that we get this team ready to go.”
APSU fell to UCA last season at home by a final score of 24-16. Bears quarterback Breylin Smith completed 19 of 30 passes for 283 yards and three touchdowns in the win.
Lovings knows his defensive unit will have its work cut out for them trying to limit Smith through the air on Saturday.
“He’s a very, very accurate quarterback, and he understands their offense,” Lovings said. “He’s been in their system for a long time now with him and Coach Nate Brown. He can get checks and try to put them in the best situation possible. When quarterbacks are experienced, it’s hard to trick them. We just have to be really sound in what we do and keep making him earn every single yard.”
It won’t be easy this season replacing the likes of former All-OVC team member Kentel Williams and Prince Momodu in the running game, but Austin Peay offensive coordinator Tim Zetts believes his current stable of backs are up to the challenge.
“They’re coming along,” Zetts said. “They’re basically one of the position groups on offense that didn’t have a whole lot of experience returning. Obviously Ahmaad (Tanner) has a ton of it, but I thought through Spring and really as camp went on, they all showed a lot of improvement. I’m really pleased with that. CJ Evans came on as a freshman and I think he’s a guy that could also see meaningful snaps for us.”
Staying on the offensive side of the ball, the Governors currently boast one of the top receiving corps in all of college football. Zetts discussed what makes the trio of DeAngelo Wilson, Baniko Harley and Gorel Soumare so special.
“They’re a lot of fun to game plan for,” Zetts said. “I know Coach Bump (Chad Bumphis) does a phenomenal job of getting those guys ready. They give us a lot flexibility because they’re all versatile. They all have a skillset that we can use which makes them more elite than others. As far as their production and everything on the field, all you have to do is find a way to get the ball in their hands and let them go to work.”
With Jeremiah Oatsvall returning under center and all of the aforementioned weapons at his disposal, the Governor offense is certainly capable of putting up monster numbers this season.
On the defensive side of the ball, Austin Peay returns two key contributors in the middle and back end including Preseason All-OVC linebacker Jack McDonald and consensus All-America and OVC Preseason Defensive Player of the Year Kordell Jackson.
“I think as far as our secondary goes, Juantarius (Bryant) was a huge part that we lost,” said Austin Peay co-defensive coordinator and secondary coach Dominique Bowman. “Kordell isn’t a real talkative guy, but this season he’s done a great job as a leader. I tell our group all the time that our defense goes how our back end goes. I think we’re the heart and soul of the deal and I think Coach Powell (Mark) would agree with that.”
No. 13 Austin Peay (0-0) and No. 10 Central Arkansas (0-0) will kick off the college football season on ESPN Saturday at 8 p.m. in Montgomery, Alabama.
It will be the first of a three-game fall slate for the Governors, as Austin Peay will also travel to Cincinnati and Pittsburgh later this season.
Neil Rye is the sports reporter for ClarksvilleNow.com. Reach him by email at [email protected] or call 931-220-9764.
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