Tennessee State football vs. Lane: Scouting and score prediction for John Merritt Classic

After its worst start in 27 years, coach Eddie George said the Tennessee State football team needed a break.

The Tigers (0-3) got that last week with an open date, which provided a reset as they prepare to play Lane College (2-2) on Saturday (1 p.m., ESPN+) in the John Merritt Classic at Hale Stadium

It will be the first time TSU has played at its historic on-campus facility since George became the coach in 2021 and the only time the Tigers will play there this season.

"I say you never lose, you learn," George said. "So we had three learning experiences that you can see where we had our opportunities to perform and it exposed a lot. It allowed us to work on some things offense to defense to special teams. I saw some improvement from week-to-week."

Starting over

TSU started 0-3 in 1997 and lost to two of the same opponents this team lost to - Jackson State and Middle Tennessee State. That team was unable to turn the season around and finished 2-9.

This team has a better chance to right the ship with its toughest competition out of the way.

A more manageable slate starts Saturday with Division II Lane. TSU has never lost to Lane and beat the Dragons 43-26 the last time they played in 1996.

Lane has posted only one winning record - 6-4 in 2021 - since 2014. The Dragons opened this season against FCS foe Arkansas-Pine Bluff and put up a good fight before losing 48-42.

QB is questionable

TSU starting quarterback Draylen Ellis' playing status is questionable. George said he would be a game-time decision.

The Austin Peay transfer suffered a high ankle sprain in the second quarter of the last game on Sept. 17 at MTSU.

Having an open date provided more time for Ellis to recover, but George said Ellis would be have to be evaluated each day this week.

If Ellis doesn't play Chayil Garnett will replace him. Garnett's only only action this season came after Ellis was injured. Garnett completed 6-of-10 passes for 53 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

Home crowd

TSU head coach Eddie George on the sidelines during the game against MTSU on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at MTSU's home opener.
TSU head coach Eddie George on the sidelines during the game against MTSU on Saturday, Sept. 17, 2022, at MTSU's home opener.

George was disappointed with attendance for TSU's 2021 home games, which were all played at Nissan Stadium. Average attendance for four home games was 4,023.

Some fans expressed an interest in having games played on campus again and if that's what it takes to get them to show up George was willing to do it.

He expects a large crowd Saturday.

"It feels good to finally have a home game after spending pretty much the whole month of September on the road," George said. "It's going to be an exciting time and we're hoping our fans come out in droves of support and give us the homefield advantage we're looking for."


TSU 38, Lane 20: With or without Ellis the offense should click better than it has at any point. It has shown flashes and running back Devon Starling has been just as responsible for that as Ellis. This is a game where Starling and the run game should be able to impose its will on a lower level opponent.

Reach Mike Organ at 615-259-8021 or on Twitter @MikeOrganWriter.

This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee State football vs. Lane: Our score prediction