Behind Enemy Bylines is a series in which The Red & Black discusses Georgia’s upcoming game with the sports editor of the student newspaper of Georgia’s opponent for that week. This week, assistant sports editor Michael Hebert talked to senior sports writer Riley Grubbs of The All State at Austin Peay.
Michael Hebert: Coming off a season in 2017 where the team snapped a 29-game losing streak and then came in second in the Ohio Valley Conference… that’s a pretty good season considering where they came from. What are the expectations for Austin Peay this season?
Riley Grubbs: As you said, they snapped that 29-game losing streak which the first game they won was huge, they won 69-13 [over Morehead State]. The offense looked amazing, and everyone thought well 1-10, 1-11 is the expectation now but then they went 8-4, stunned everybody and this year they are projected to finish second in the OVC behind Jacksonville State. The buzz around campus is just huge right now. Bigger than it has been in my three years prior to this season. Everybody is excited and everybody expects at least eight to nine wins for them.
Michael Hebert: I saw that the second leading rusher from last season, [junior running back] Kentell Williams is suspended. Do you know anything about that and how big of a loss is that really for Austin Peay?
Riley Grubbs: I don’t really know anything about him being suspended. I actually haven’t heard about that. But, towards the end of the season, he was replaced by [sophomore running back] Ahmaad Tanner, [junior] Prince [Momudu], all of them got touches. He was a very big key to the offense. He was the starting tailback at the beginning of the season. In the game where [Austin Peay] snapped [the] losing streak, he had eight carries for like 205 yards and no touchdowns. So, he’s going to be the X-Factor, but Austin Peay relies heavily on its ground game and they have five or six players who can get it done.
Michael Hebert: I saw that Austin Peay played Cincinatti last year but obviously [now] they have another Power 5 team like Georgia. What do players and coaches feel about going up against a team like Georgia that has the caliber that they do in the first game of the season?
Riley Grubbs: From what I understand they are excited, they were excited when they went to play Cincinnati last year. They almost squeezed one out against a good team in Cincinnati and I think they are excited for the challenge, they know its going to be an uphill battle in place like Sanford Stadium. It’s the preseason No. 3 team, its going to be a battle. A lot of people are expecting to Georgia to win, but you never know, Appalachian State when they defeated Michigan that was huge. I don’t necessarily know if something like that is on the horizon but I think Austin Peay won’t go away.
Riley Grubbs: I think no matter the result, it will be a good learning experience for [Austin Peay]. Even if they lose heavily, Georgia is easily the best team [it has] on their schedule this year. They play Jacksonville State later on in the season, that’s the preseason one and two in the OVC going at it and I think they’ll use it for fuel for that game. I think they are just going to learn from it, grow and see what they need to attack. Like I said, that’ll be the strongest team on their schedule by far.
Michael Hebert: I read somewhere that Austin Peay is bringing a lot of experience back, where do you see the most of it? On the offensive side of the ball or the defensive side of the ball?
Riley Grubbs: It’s really on both. But, the offensive side of the ball, they have their three leading rushers back. Their quarterback [Jeremiah Oatsvall] is coming in as a sophomore and he’s named the preseason player of the year by the media in the OVC. But on defense, there’s nobody to sleep on. [There is] a Buck Buchanan Award finalist [best defensive player in Football Championship Subdivision], he’s on that watch list.
Michael Hebert: Georgia returns on a lot on offense but they lost a lot on defense. Do you think that Austin Peay may be able to exploit a little of that inexperience? Are they more of a passing team or is it run-first?
Riley Grubbs: They are definitely more of a running team. Like I said, they have a great quarterback who is going into his sophomore year. He won the starting job midway through [last] season. I definitely think they will rely on their running game just like they did last year. They averaged 258 yards a game on the ground. They scored 32 rushing touchdowns on the season. I definitely think that will be a strong point of attack for them. Not just in the Georgia game but throughout the whole season. I wouldn’t surprised if there was a lot of play-action to get the passing game rolling, because you can’t be one dimensional against an SEC team.
Michael Hebert: Do you have thoughts about predictions for this game and what you think might happen? Maybe a score prediction if you have one?
Riley Grubbs: Well, I don’t know about that score because the spread I’ve been seeing is Georgia is a 43-point favorite. I think we are going to see Austin Peay do what they did best last year, attack the ground. It’s definitely going to be an uphill challenge going against such a tough running defense coming from the SEC where everybody is ground and pound not really air it out. I think a realistic score would be 45-10, 45-17 in favor of Georgia. It will be an interesting game, but I still see Georgia taking it.