Location: Clarksville, Tennessee
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference (FCS)
2017 record: 8-4
Head Coach: Will Healy (entering his third season, 8-15 overall)
Austin Peay is a great example of how things can change quickly in college football. The Governors were 1-11 in 2016, Coach Will Healy’s first season. That actually represented improvement, as they didn’t win a single game in 2015, and rode a 27 game losing streak into the season.
But last season, behind a solid rushing game and an emerging freshman quarterback, the guys from Clarksville finished 8-4 and enter 2018 as a legitimate FCS playoff contender. The Governors were consistently decent on both sides of the ball, finishing 50th in FCS in scoring offense (27.3 points per game) and 50th in scoring defense (24.8 ppg). Other than a 73-33 trouncing at the hands of made up national champion Central Florida, it was a dang good year for a program that hadn’t seen a good year of football in a while.
But wait, it gets better!
Austin Peay enters 2018 ranked in early season FCS polls for the first time in recent memory. This may in fact be the golden age of Austin Peay football. To put things in perspective, last season’s eight win campaign tied the school record for victories. A 9-3 season, far from out of the question, would be the best in school history.
Sophomore quarterback Jeremiah Oatsvall returns having finished 4-1 as a starter last season after taking the reins. Oatsvall threw for 1148 yards and ran for 453, combining for 13 touchdowns through the air and on the ground. For his efforts Oatsvall was named the Ohio Valley Conference 2017 freshman of the year and was second team all-conference, and is the preseason Ohio Valley Conference offensive player of the year. It will be interesting to see if his passing accuracy (56.7%, 4 interceptions in 2017) improves.
The Governors didn’t ask Oatsvall to do too much in 2017 in part because of a solid rushing attack. They return tailbacks Ahmaad Tanner and Kentel Williams, who combined for 1371 yards rushing and led an attack that finished 6th in FCS in rushing yards at 258.8 yards per game. Kirby Smart has fretted openly about how his defensive line has handled the run in spring practice and to some extent so far this fall. The Governors, assuming they stick to their identity, will be a solid early test of whether that aspect of the Dawgs’ defense has made any progress.
Perhaps the best player in an Austin Peay uniform is on the defensive side of the ball. Junior defensive end Jaison Williams is a preseason FCS All-American after a sophomore season that saw him record 9.5 sacks and force 4 fumbles, tieing a program record. The 6’1, 225 pound Trussville native also logged 13 quarterback hurries and 2.5 tackles for loss. While undersized, Williams is a disruptive player who will make opportunities for himself, and deserves watching.
Linebacker Gunnar Scholato is a preseason 3rd team All-American selection after leading the Governors in tackles in 2017 with 99 total stops, and tackles for loss with 12. The 6’3, 234 pound redshirt senior recorded 124 tackles in 2016. Senior defensive lineman Nate Howard (6’4, 240 pounds) also returns after finishing second on the team in tackles despite only playing in 10 games.
The Bottom Line
Georgia is the only FBS team on Austin Peay’s schedule this season, and there’s every reason to believe the Red and Black will get the Governors’ best shot. But let’s be bluntly honest: there’s absolutely no reason for the defending SEC champions to struggle in this one. Anything short of a workmanlike early dispatching of the Governors will be seen as a failure in game one and raise anxiety heading into week two against South Carolina.
That’s unlikely. MaconDawg’s prediction sure to be proven wrong: Georgia 55, Austin Peay 7.