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Redhawks to face deceiving 1-3 Tigers football team
While some might see Tennessee State as vulnerable, Southeast Missouri State coach Tony Samuel sees the Tigers as one of the Ohio Valley Conference's more physically gifted football teams.
"They're very talented," Samuel said. "They'll always have talent."
The Redhawks will try to get the better of that talent Saturday night when they face TSU at LP Field -- home of the NFL's Tennessee Titans -- in Nashville.
The Redhawks, who have lost three consecutive games, are 1-3 overall and 0-2 in the OVC. TSU, also 1-3 and losers of two straight, will be playing its conference opener.
"I feel like we're much more competitive," Samuel said of the Redhawks, whose two OVC defeats have been by a total of 16 points after they dropped several close contests last year.
But Samuel emphasized, "We just can't come close. We need to win some of these games. We need to get over the hump."
TSU had a strong 2008, going 8-4 overall and 5-3 in the OVC. One of the Tigers' losses was to Southeast, which upset then 19th-ranked TSU 27-20 in overtime in Cape Girardeau.
Sophomore quarterback Matt Scheible scored the winning touchdown on a 5-yard run on his only play of the game. Scheible is now Southeast's starter.
Samuel said the Tigers -- last in the OVC in scoring at 12.5 points per game -- are much better than their record. TSU's losses have been to teams that are a combined 10-2.
"All those teams they've played are good," Samuel said.
TSU coach James Webster said the Tigers not only have suffered record-wise, they've also suffered in the injury department.
"We've had a tough season to this point. We've had four very tough games, very physical games," Webster said. "We've suffered some devastating injuries."
The injury bug has hit TSU's quarterback crop. The Tigers have used three signal callers, with their two primary ones -- Calvin McNairl and Dominic Grooms -- both missing time with injuries.
The pair split time during TSU's most recent game. Asked about the quarterback situation for Saturday, Webster said: "Neither one of them is 100 percent healthy. The first thing we've got to evaluate is who's healthy to play."
McNairl and Grooms, who had seen limited action before this year, provide an interesting contrast to prepare for. McNairl is much more of a running threat, while Grooms is a more accomplished passer.
McNairl is the OVC's fourth-leading rusher with 269 yards, averaging 6.9 yards per carry. He has completed just 36.6 percent of his passes.
Grooms, who transferred to TSU last year from Missouri -- he redshirted at MU in 2006 and did not see any action as the Tigers' No. 3 quarterback in 2007 -- has completed 54.2 percent of his passes but has rushed just twice, for zero yards.
"They're all very good athletes," Samuel said of TSU's quarterbacks.
Southeast's first two OVC opponents -- Eastern Illinois and Tennessee-Martin -- had several Division I-A transfers.
TSU has the most Division I-A transfers in the OVC with 20, including players from such notable programs as Florida, Ohio State, Miami and Florida State, in addition to Missouri. Many of the transfers played for the Tigers last year.
"They always go after a lot of drop-downs [Division I-A transfers]," Samuel said.
The Tigers feature a huge offensive line that averages 331 pounds per man, including players who weigh 355, 350 and 346 pounds.
Southeast leads the all-time series with TSU 9-8, but the Redhawks are 0-4 at LP Field since the Tigers began using the facility in 1999. Southeast's last trip to Nashville, in 2006, resulted in a 31-0 loss.
While LP Field is by far the most impressive facility Southeast plays an OVC game in -- although the stands are not very full for most conference contests -- Samuel said the Redhawks shouldn't focus on their surroundings.
"It's a very nice facility," Samuel said. "But the objective is to go and win. We don't want to act like tourists."