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Southeast Missouri State football team will test run game vs. EKU's stout defense
The OVC's top rushing attack faces the conferences top rushing defense
The Southeast Missouri State football team again leads the Ohio Valley Conference in rushing and is coming off its top ground performance of the season.
But Southeast's run-based offensive attack will face a major test Saturday when the Redhawks (3-5, 2-3 OVC) play their final home game against 23rd-ranked Eastern Kentucky (6-3, 4-2). The senior day kickoff at Houck Stadium is set for 1 p.m.
Southeast, which led the OVC in rushing the past two years, is averaging 255 yards per contest on the ground, ranking eighth nationally.
The Redhawks piled up 399 yards last week at winless Austin Peay as they broke a three-game losing streak with a 48-27 victory.
EKU is first in the conference against the run, allowing an average of just 99.6 yards an outing. So something will have to give Saturday.
"Our team runs the ball well but we'll have to throw the ball some," Southeast coach Tony Samuel said. "We have to take what the defense gives us. They try to take away the run. They've always got a very good defense."
While Southeast has a potent rushing attack, so does EKU, led by senior Matt Denham.
Denham, the OVC's third-leading rusher, has gained 1,073 yards after leading the league last year with 1,570 yards. He is second in the conference with 12 touchdowns.
"He's a great running back," Samuel said.
The Colonels also have a four-year starting quarterback in senior T.J. Pryor, a former OVC freshman of the year who leads the conference and ranks third nationally in passing efficiency.
Pryor has completed 59.2 percent (106 of 179) for 1,675 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. He is EKU's career leader in passing yards with more than 7,000 and touchdown passes with 50.
"He's got a great arm, and he's very mobile and experienced," Samuel said.
Pryor has two favorite targets in 6-foot-4 senior Tyrone Goard, who is averaging 22 yards on his 32 receptions and has scored seven touchdowns, and senior Cameron Bailey (37 receptions, 13.7-yard average, four touchdowns).
Samuel said Goard is a "great deep threat. He's a big kid. They like to take some deep shots."
The Colonels probably won't be in a good mood when they come to Cape Girardeau after seeing their OVC title hopes take a hit with last week's 24-7 home loss to Eastern Illinois.
EKU is still alive for the OVC championship but the Colonels can't afford another league defeat. They are a half-game behind Eastern Illinois, Tennessee-Martin and Tennessee State, who are all tied for first at 4-1.
"It was a tough game against Eastern Illinois," EKU coach Dean Hood said "I thought they had a great game plan. I thought their kids really played hard, made a lot of good plays and put it to us. They deserved to win the football game."
Hood said he thought the Colonels lost the physical battle last week and he expects another major challenge in that area Saturday.
"SEMO is really physical. They may be the most physical team in our league and they're always tough at home. It'll be a heck of a ballgame for us," Hood said.
EKU earned a share of last year's OVC championship with two league defeats. It was the Colonels' record 21st OVC title,.
"They've got a great tradition," Samuel said.
The Colonels lead the all-time series against Southeast 19-3 and have won seven of the past eight meetings. The Redhawks are 1-9 against EKU at Houck Stadium, their lone victory coming in 2010.