The final non-conference game of the season will await Austin Peay on Saturday prior to a six-game Ohio Valley Conference stretch to close out 2014.
Mercer will be the opposition, a program which was recently reinstated by the NCAA after a drought dating back to 1941 without football. After a stint in the Pioneer League, the Bears announced they would play scholarship football as a member of the Southern Conference in 2013. This season, Mercer has compiled a record of 4-2, and is coming off a three-point loss to Samford.
Meanwhile, the Govs remain confident that capturing a must-needed victory will come sooner than later. They’ll look to bounce back from a 31-0 shutout loss to Eastern Kentucky, but APSU hasn’t won a non-conference game on the road since 2007.
Kickoff for Mercer-Austin Peay will be at 3 p.m. CT, and if you don’t plan on making the trip to Macon (or if you want to discuss the game), follow either @TheAllState or @corey_adams on Twitter for live updates. In addition, a full game recap will publish afterward.
What to watch for: Austin Peay
- Ongoing improvements for the defense. While APSU has allowed an average of 33.5 per contest in five games, the defense has been the strength of the team. The Govs allowed a season-low 31 points to a top 20 FCS team in EKU a week ago, limiting a highly-touted running back, Dy’Shawn Mobley, to just 55 yards. Sophomore linebacker Antonio Turner has become more and more involved over the last few weeks, tying for the team lead in tackles last week with 10. Another second year player, safety Damien Whitfield, made 10 stops of his own. Three different players from the secondary have led the Govs in total tackles over the previous three games, so expect one of the back five to set the tone.
- A trio of running backs. With Rashaan Coleman moving back to his natural position at wide receiver, it’s now a three-man race in the backfield. Similar to tackles, three different backs have paced the Govs in games against Eastern Illinois, Illinois State, and EKU. Justin Roberson remains the starter, but Otis Gerron and Julian Franklin have proven themselves over the last couple of weeks to get more touches. The Bears have allowed just over four yards per carry this season, so look for APSU to pound the rock with all three guys.
- Control the field. If APSU is going to have success on Saturday, they’ll have to take control of field position. Against EKU, the Govs started in their own territory to begin each drive, with five beginning inside the 20. To avoid getting backed up, head coach Kirby Cannon said his defense has to change the game with turnovers, but so far, the Govs have made just one interception.
What to watch for: Mercer
- Alex Lakes. The Mercer back has averaged exactly 100 yards over the first six games with nine touchdowns. It offers another challenge to the APSU defensive front six, but they have faced a number of talented runners throughout both OVC play and non-conference tilts. The Govs will be thankful, though, not to see Lakes on a regular basis, considering he is a redshirt freshman just getting started for the Bears.
- Dual threat quarterback. Sophomore quarterback John Russ may not be as talented as other signal callers APSU has faced in the past, but he can be a hassle. The PFL Offensive Rookie of the Year compiled 33 total touchdowns in 2013, with 12 of those scores coming on the ground. Transition to this season, and Russ has surpassed the 1,000-yard passing mark with 10 completions for touchdowns while throwing six picks. He also averages 32.3 rushing yards per game, so containing him will be on the mind of APSU linebackers.
- Third down conversions. One area where Mercer has been poor is on third downs, moving the sticks 34 percent (25-73) of the time. On average, the Govs have allowed opposing teams to get the first down 40 percent of the time. If they can force punts early in the game, it could be a difference maker. The last thing APSU wants to see is quick scores early in the first half.
Photo by: (Bailey Jones, The All State)