It will be the 2023 opener for TSU (0-0) in its third season under coach Eddie George. The Tigers went 4-7 last year and 5-6 in George’s first season in 2021. The squad’s primary goal this season is to post the program’s first winning record since going 6-5 in 2017.
No. 13 Notre Dame (1-0) opened the season last week with a 42-3 win over Navy in Dublin, Ireland. Transfer quarterback Sam Hartman led the Fighting Irish to the lopsided win, getting the program off to a better start than 2022 when it went 0-2 in coach Marcus Freeman’s inaugural season.
Here’s what to know about the game, including a score prediction:
Tennessee State vs. FBS programs
While this game is a prime opportunity for TSU in terms of national exposure and prominence, it also poses an enormous challenge.
The Tigers opened the 2017 season with a 17-10 win over FBS foe Georgia State. While that was a big win, it is the only victory over an FBS opponent TSU has ever claimed.
TSU managed to give Vanderbilt a scare in 2018 before losing 31-27. The Tigers led at halftime (13-10) and with 8:02 remaining (27-24). They also gave Middle Tennessee State some trouble before losing 45-26 in 2019. TSU trailed only 10-6 at halftime and 31-26 in the fourth quarter of that game.
TSU has been less competitive in other games against FBS foes over the past 12 years, which included a 55-10 loss at Mississippi State in 2021, a 35-17 loss at Vanderbilt in 2016 and a 63-24 loss at Air Force in 2011.
Notre Dame will be the highest ranked opponent TSU has faced. Mississippi State was No. 25 in 2021.
Stopping Notre Dame QB Sam Hartman
Defense is a strength for TSU, and it’s a good thing because Hartman has already provided a jolt for Notre Dame’s offense. The Wake Forest transfer lived up to the lofty expectations heaped upon him when he completed 19 of 23 passes for 251 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions against Navy. One of his incompletions came when he clocked the ball meaning he had only three true incompletions.
After getting torched by the first two quarterbacks it faced last season − Eastern Washington’s Gunner Talkington (29-of-46, 348 yards, 5 TDs) and Jackson State’s Shedeur Sanders (30-of-44, 276 yards, 1 TD) − TSU’s defense did better the rest of the way. The Tigers kept the last eight quarterbacks they faced to less than 200 passing yards.
TSU finished first in the Ohio Valley Conference and 19th in the FCS in passing yards allowed (190.1).
Defensive ends Terrell Allen, Jaylen Bell and George’s son Eriq will be counted on to keep pressure on Hartman while cornerbacks Bryce Phillips, who made the All-OVC second team and newcomer team in 2022, and Fondren Hollis III along with strong safety Josh Green, who led the Tigers with three interceptions last year, will be tasked with covering the Fighting Irish’s receivers.
Improvement on the line
If TSU’s offensive line doesn’t prove to be better than it was for the bulk of the 2022 season, this game could be disastrous for the Tigers.
The only way the Tigers can prevent Notre Dame from blowing them out is by maintaining possession of the ball and keeping it out of Hartman’s hands.
As last season wore on, TSU’s offense became less capable of sustaining long drives. The line could not protect quarterback Draylen Ellis or open holes for the Tigers running backs.
TSU was next-to-last in scoring offense (18.3 points) and last in time of possession (28:36 minutes).
The only returning starter on the offensive line is center Chazan Page. That means four newcomers will get the chance to see if they can be better than the line was in 2022.
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Tennessee State score prediction vs. Notre Dame
Notre Dame 52, Tennessee State 7: Notre Dame did not turn the ball over against Navy, but TSU must find away to come up with at least two takeaways against the Fighting Irish. The Tigers defenders must take chances and try to strip the ball any chance that comes their way. If TSU is within striking distance at any point in the second half, it will be considered a huge accomplishment.
Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on the X platform, formerly Twitter, @MikeOrganWriter.