When the 2019 Ohio Valley Conference Champion APSU Governors took the field on Aug. 29 for the Guardian Credit Union FCS Kickoff, they were not led by the same coach who coached the team to its first conference title in 42 years.
Rather, the team was led by interim head coach Marquase Lovings.
On July 7, Director of Athletics Gerald Harrison named Lovings the interim head coach of the Govs after an unexpected resignation from Mark Hudspeth. With such a short turnaround from having a new head coach named for the team’s first game, differences were to be expected under a Lovings’ led team compared to that of Hudspeth. While the season is just two weeks old, many similarities and differences in the coaches’ styles have already been observed.
Lovings worked with Hudspeth for the better part of a decade, beginning in 2009 at Mississippi State. Hudspeth was the wide receivers and pass game coordinator for the Bulldogs while Lovings served as a defensive graduate assistant. When Hudspeth took a job as the head coach at the University of Louisiana-Lafayette, he brought along Lovings to be the team’s running backs coach.
Lovings moved to the defensive side of the ball in 2017 to coach ULL’s defensive ends. In 2019, when Hudspeth was named head coach of APSU, one of the first calls he made was to Lovings to be his associate head coach and defensive line coach. Needless to say, with Lovings spending all but one year of his coaching career with Hudspeth, there are bound to be many similarities in the duo’s philosophy.
The biggest difference in the two comes in the way they utilize their coordinators. With 2020 being Lovings’ first season as a head coach, he places more trust in Tim Zetts, the team’s offensive coordinator.
“Coach Lovings is more hands-off, which for me is kind of good to be able to do your own thing your own thing,” Zetts said on the difference in the two coaches. “After week six or somewhere around there [Coach Hudspeth] built a trust for me and was more hands-off, so that prepped me for where we are at now.
“[Coach Lovings] is a defensive-minded guy, but he has also coached running backs, so he does have that offensive background. I think he understands the game as a whole well. He’s going to be able to give good feedback, advice, and just good overall coaching points on both sides of the ball. Offensively, we are just going to do what we do. I know coach Lovings trusts us, which means a lot to me.”
Lovings’ ability to retain his coordinators greatly aids in the overall flow of the team from a leadership and play calling standpoint. Even after the departure of Hudspeth and with Jeremiah Oatsvall back under center, the team is still able to run Zetts’ west coast, spread offensive scheme that found great success in 2019.
Last year, the Governors had a high-powered offense under senior quarterback JaVaughn Craig. While the offense has not flourished in the early part of the shortened fall season, Lovings and Zetts look to get the ball moving more against the Cincinnati Bearcats on Sept. 19 and in the spring when OVC competition begins.
The defensive side of the ball is Lovings’ forte. As the team’s defensive line coach last year, Lovings helped the Govs in being one of the best defensive teams in the FCS. The Governors’ defensive line earned top 20 rankings in total defense (12th), scoring defense (15th) and rush defense (8th). He also had three members of his defensive line in Josephus Smith (First Team), Shaun Whittinghill (Second Team) and John Wesley Whiteside (Newcomer Team) named to All-OVC selections in 2019.
The coach has a heightened awareness on the defensive side and, like with the offense, allows for co-defensive coordinators Mark Powell and Dominque Bowman to run the defense as they see fit under his guidance.
“Lovings is really detailed and knows how our defense goes,” Bowman said. “He trusts coach Powell and I more. He doesn’t ask many questions about the defense because he was in the foxholes, so to speak, with us. He’s been at war with us. Whereas coach [Hudspeth] would come down and want to know every play and everything we’re doing, Lovings is like ‘Hey, Bowman and Powell, defense wins championships.’ He knows how we work and what we have going on.”
Although the Governors struggled mightily against an elite Pittsburgh defense, APSU showed flashes of its greatness in the team’s opening game against Central Arkansas. As the season continues and resumes in the spring, look for the offense and defense to gain momentum and dominate as it did in the Govs 2019 season.
While the transition from Mark Hudspeth to Marquase Lovings seemingly came out of nowhere, Lovings brings a familiarity that can ensure the success from a year ago. The team looks to end the spring season strong against Cincinnati before returning to OVC in 2021.