Tennessee State football falls out of FCS playoff picture after losing to Eastern Illinois

Tennessee State football's hopes for earning an FCS playoff berth were squashed Saturday after the Tigers lost to host Eastern Illinois, 30-17.

It was the second straight loss for TSU (6-4, 2-3 Big South/OVC), which wraps up the regular season next Saturday against Tennessee Tech at Nissan Stadium.

TSU was mathematically eliminated from contention for the conference title, which comes with an automatic berth in the playoffs. An at-large berth is also out of reach because the Tigers can only get to six wins in the eyes of the FCS playoff selection committee since their win over Lincoln doesn't count because Lincoln is not an NCAA Division I team. A six-win team would not get consideration over teams with at least seven wins.

"We're just not there yet to be a playoff team," TSU coach Eddie George said. "We've closed the gap but not enough to overcome the mistakes we've made the last couple of weeks."

It was the third straight win for EIU (7-3, 3-2).

TSU rallied from a 14-0 first quarter deficit to take a 17-14 lead on a 43-yard field goal by James Lowery midway through the third quarter.

EIU running back MJ Flowers, however, scored his third touchdown two minutes after TSU took the lead and his fourth with 5:48 left to play to secure the win.

Tennessee State receiver Karate Brenson catches a touchdown pass against host Eastern Illinois Saturday.
Tennessee State receiver Karate Brenson catches a touchdown pass against host Eastern Illinois Saturday.

Eddie George admits coaching error after swapping punt returners

The momentum TSU gained after scoring 17 straight points was lost when Boogie Trotter replaced Dayron Johnson as the Tigers' punt returner. Johnson had fumbled the ball on the goal line on a kickoff return.

Trotter, who had not returned a punt or a kickoff this season, scooped up the ball after an EIU punt with 7:30 left in the third quarter and then dropped it at the TSU 36. EIU recovered and scored two plays later to go back up 20-17.

"That was probably a coaching error more than anything else," George said. "Myself and (special teams) coach (Keith) Burns felt like it was time for a change. In hindsight we put (Trotter) in a bad situation coming out cold and not having returned punts."

TSU's offense was ugly early and late

The Tigers' offense came out sluggish led by Deveon Bryant and Draylen Ellis, who alternated at quarterback.

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TSU had no yards on its first 10 plays and EIU already had a 14-0 lead at that point. Five of TSU's first 10 offense plays were for negative yards.

Bryant finally engineered a nine-play, 52-yard scoring drive which he capped with a nine-yard touchdown pass to Avery Williams in the second quarter.

On TSU’s next possession Ellis engineered seven-play, 65-yard scoring drive he finished with a 7-yard touchdown pass to Karate Benson.

By the middle of the third quarter the offense went dormant again. The unit gained just 42 total yards on its next three possessions and failed to cross the 50-yard line for the remainder of the game.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee State no longer in playoff picture after Eastern Illinois loss