FCS Kickoff: Lovings a stabilizing force in Austin Peay offseason

NCAA Football

(Stats Perform) – After the emotional roller coaster of an offseason – when uncertainty was ahead on every scoreboard – Austin Peay players and coaches surely must feel relaxed to have finally reached game week.

“I think we’re excited,” interim head coach Marquase Lovings said Monday, “but no, no time to relax here. We really have to prepare.”

The Governors have a good sense about their opponent, Central Arkansas, which they lost to 24-16 last September at home, and they’re anxious for the rematch Saturday night in the FCS Kickoff at historic Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama (9 p.m. ET, ESPN). This year, the seventh annual season-opening spotlight is the first game in college football after all other Week Zero games were canceled or postponed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The two schools are among 15 FCS programs (out of 127 overall) to have announced games this fall. Austin Peay has planned only one other game – Sept. 19 at Cincinnati – while Central Arkansas has a nine-game schedule, the most in the FCS.

Their matchup is anticipated after both finished in the top 11 of last year’s national rankings. Austin Peay rebounded nicely from the loss to Central Arkansas, going on to earn a share of their first Ohio Valley Conference title since 1977, win two FCS playoff games and set a program record for victories in an 11-4 campaign. Central Arkansas was the Southland Conference co-champ and went 9-4 while reaching the playoffs for the third time in four years.

“We’re just getting ready to play an experienced football team,” Lovings said. Central Arkansas returns 18 starters (nine offense, nine defense), while Austin Peay has 16 (eight and eight) back.

“This is the first game and we’re just going to keep things simple, make sure we are fundamentally sound from an execution standpoint. Those are the things that we can kind of control.”

There wasn’t a lot that could be controlled this offseason given the pandemic and shutdown across college sports. Austin Peay has needed Lovings to be a stabilizing factor, elevated from associate head coach and defensive line coach to interim head coach after Mark Hudspeth stepped down on July 3 while serving a university suspension. Assistants seem to enjoy Lovings’ less hands-on approach than Hudspeth’s.

Austin Peay suspended offseason activities last month due to positive coronavirus tests, but the Governors got back on the field for preseason camp. Lovings said his players were tested last week and will be tested again Wednesday, 72 hours before kickoff, under NCAA protocol. He declined to say whether any players would miss the game due to positive tests or injury, although grad transfer quarterback Vito Priore, who was behind starter Jeremiah Oatsvall, recently opted out of the fall season due to the pandemic.

“You guys will see on Saturday who runs out there for the Govs,” said Lovings, a 2006 Howard graduate.

“I really thought our administration did a great job with what we’re doing moving forward and just the priorities we’re kind of having and how we’re attacking this.”

Austin Peay boasts a superb senior class, led by wide receiver DeAngelo Wilson, defensive tackle Josephus Smith and cornerback Kordell Jackson. Oatsvall is repeating his junior campaign, having received a medical redshirt for the season-ending foot injury he suffered against Central Arkansas on the Govs’ ninth play from scrimmage. Missing the banner season has made Oatsvall “more hungry,” offensive coordinator Tim Zett said.

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