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Notre Dame Football: Tennessee State Tigers Q&A with Underdog Dynasty

Notre Dame plays its first ever FCS opponent on Saturday — let’s see what we need to know about Eddie George’s squad heading into the home opener

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 17 Tennessee State at Middle Tennessee Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images


It was an excellent and quite aesthetically pleasing start to the season for us as Notre Dame Fighting Irish football fans, watching our beloved boys in blue and gold travel to Dublin just to put a near-perfect smackdown on those pesky Midshipmen.

This weekend, the multiple-game tune-up to prepare for the meat of the schedule continues as the Irish play host to the Tennessee State Tigers, the first-ever FCS school to play Notre Dame and a unique and historical opponent thanks to its status as an HBCU, its strong history in the sport and athletics in general, and its head coach being Eddie George, another former Ohio State Buckeye great whom Marcus Freeman can certainly appreciate.

Obviously, considering we cover the Irish and the Irish have never played an FCS opponent before, I know very little about most FCS programs, including Tennessee State. So, in order to properly learn everything we need to know about ND’s opponent this week, I reached out to Jared Miller over at Underdog Dynasty, which is SB Nation’s go-to hub for any and all coverage of American, Conference USA, Sun Belt, and FCS football.

Jared is a staff writer over there and their resident FCS expert, and so he graciously answered another long list of questions ranging from how Tennessee State fans feel about this game, to how Eddie George looks as coach, to which ND and Tennessee State alumni would win in a Backer bar fight (plus much more).

So, let’s go ahead and dive in so we can be as ready as ever for Saturday afternoon and all the firsts and historic importance this game brings as we hit Week 1 of the greater college football season.


Tennessee State v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

1. Just to start off, how are Tennessee State fans feeling about their squad making the trip to South Bend to be the first ever FCS team the Irish have played in their history? Do the Tigers get opportunities to play many FBS P5 teams?

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): Tennessee State fans ought to be very excited about the opportunity their team has this weekend and I would venture to bet the vast majority of them are. This sort of thing doesn’t happen often and sure, we all know who’s probably winning this game, but that shouldn’t take away from the anticipation for TSU fans here. The team gets to be a part of history this weekend, regardless of outcome and a very rich history at that. To say your squad is the first ever FCS and HBCU to take on Notre Dame? That’s a big deal (plus that $1 million payout isn’t too shabby either). The fans down in Nashville don’t often get to wake up on a Saturday morning and throw on NBC to watch their team.

To answer the second part of this question simply; no. While the Tigers have had the opportunity to play P5 schools before... just two seasons ago they wrapped up their year with a trip to Starkville, MS for a date with Mississippi State... It doesn’t happen often. Yes, there’s been some games with Vanderbilt sprinkled in there over the last decade but if we’re talking big time opponents like this? It’s once in a blue moon.

2. Some Irish fans may be surprised to see such a familiar face at the helm of the TSU program in Eddie George. How’s he been as a coach in his first two seasons, especially compared to his predecessors? Are Tigers fans optimistic about his ability to turn the program around?

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): Eddie George was a big hire for Tennessee State back in 2021. We’ve seen it recently in FCS football and, more specifically, HBCU football. Guys with a name... and you know what I mean when I say A NAME... bring with them a certain expectation that they can right the ship sooner rather than later. We saw it with Deion Sanders over at Jackson State just two years ago. We’re kind of seeing it with Hue Jackson at Grambling State also. Eddie George is one of those guys that should be able to land some recruits on his name alone and that’s not to take away from his recruiting or coaching abilities in the slightest. If you’re a kid coming out of high school in that recruiting region, though, the idea of playing for a former NFL great has to be enticing.

Running back Eddie George(R) of Tennessee Titans r Photo credit should read PETER MUHLY/AFP via Getty Images

With all that in mind, his first two years with the Tigers has given fans a glimpse of what could be. TSU won a combined nine games in the three seasons prior to George’s hiring. In those three seasons the team finished no better than fifth in the Ohio Valley Conference. Since he came aboard they’ve won as many games in two seasons and came in fourth and third in the league standings respectively. There’s been some improvement for sure but now in his third season I think fans and alumni are likely expecting a significant step forward.

3. Who are the names to know on this 2023 Tigers offense, and what would you say are the offense’s strengths/weaknesses? Also, how do you think the Tennessee State offensive line will hold up on Saturday against a deep, experienced ND defensive front?

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): The first guy that comes to mind is senior quarterback Draylen Ellis. Ellis is a guy who came in via transfer portal a few years ago and he’s been a baller. Last fall he threw for 1,807 yards and rushed for another 371 while accounting for 12 scores. Tennessee State likes to run a bit more than they pass, however. So keep an eye on running back Jalen Rouse as well. He led the team on the ground last year with 613 yards and he should see even more touches this season with last year’s second-leading rusher, Devon Starling, gone.

The TSU offensive line is going to have a really, really tall order on Saturday. Notre Dame boasts one of the best defensive fronts in college football and the boys in the trenches for TSU just haven’t squared up against specimens like this and won’t for the rest of the season. The offensive line surrendered 37 total sacks in 2022 so I would be shocked if Ellis comes out of this game without hitting the turf a time or two.

4. From examining 2022 stats and looking at the 2023 roster, it seems like Tennessee State lost several key contributors on the defensive side of the ball. Who were the biggest losses there, and are there any key guys you think will stand out in this game and throughout 2023 in their absence?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 02 Austin Peay at Chattanooga Photo by Charles Mitchell/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): The biggest loss on defense has to be defensive lineman Terray Jones. Jones was a game wrecker last season, racking up four sacks and 37 stops. He had a terrific nose for where the play was going to be and he always seemed to find himself in the right place at the right time, but now he’s at Akron.

The loss of Jones, though, should open the door for someone else on the line to have a big year and I think that someone is going to be senior Terrell Allen. Allen, who is also a transfer, posted team highs in tackles for loss (12), sacks (4.5) and QB hits (7) last year and I’m expecting even bigger things from him this fall.


Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): I’ll be completely honest here, I’m not sure which LSU “thing” we’re talking about but if it’s them being called the Tigers too, I’ll just say this: Tennessee State has more Black College national titles (12) in its history than LSU has national championships in its (4).

Heck, even if you add in LSU’s unclaimed ones they still only have eight. TSU football dates back to 1912 and LSU ball goes back to the 1800s. So you tell me, who’s really earned their stripes here?


*Pat Rick editor’s note for Jared and for TSU fans: “the Backer” is a wonderful, gross little dive bar right by campus that I highly recommend if you like sticky floors, great music, drinking lots of Long Islands, and sweating a lot.

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): I think when it comes to a bar fight... or any sort of fight really... the name of the game is stamina so I’ll take Condoleezza Rice.

Oprah will definitely land a few blows but I’m not sure she can take it the distance.

Syndication: South Bend Tribune Michael Caterina / USA TODAY NETWORK


Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): When I think of a typical tiger I think of a male tiger and I’m not sure why. Of course there are female tigers but if I were a betting man I’d say that most folks think of male tigers too. I’m sure there’s some psychology we could dive into here.

8. Eddie George vs. Marcus Freeman — who wins in the following competitions?

- Karaoke Contest (also, what song does each guy sing?)

- Hot Dog Eating Contest

- Beer Pong

- Scrabble

- Baby Billy’s Bible Bonkers

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): The karaoke contest would be a nail biter but I’ll give the nod to Marcus Freeman. I have a feeling he can really belt it out when he needs to. Eddie George is a big Tennessee guy, obviously, so I’m sure he’s singing “Walking in Memphis” when he gets up there.* Freeman seems more like a Hootie and Blowfish type of guy to me so he’s going with “Let Her Cry”.

*Pat Rick editor’s note: this song slaps so much, this might actually win it for me despite how much I love Marcus and the idea of him absolutely crushing “Let Her Cry.”

The hot dog eating contest is George’s to lose. Just look at him, he’s built to eat a lot. The man is in better shape than most of us so I’m sure he can put back the calories like none other. He’s no Joey Chestnut but he’s got this one in the bag.

DIRECTV’s Fifth Annual Celebrity Beach Bowl - Game Photo by Christopher Polk/Getty Images for DIRECTV

For beer pong I just have to go with who’s the bigger party school and I’m just not sure if the good ol’ Catholic boys of Notre Dame can take on a southern school like TSU here. Now I’m not saying the Irish don’t like to have a good time (I watched the game in Dublin last weekend) but I’m giving this one to George also.

Scrabble feels like it would be Freeman’s happy place outside of football. Doesn’t he just seem like the guy who does a crossword puzzle before bed every night, or is that just me? He’ll whip George up and down a Scrabble board.

Baby Billy’s Bible Bonkers... that’s a new one to me. How can I pick against the Notre Dame guy? Give me Freeman.

Notre Dame v Navy - Aer Lingus College Football Classic Photo By Brendan Moran/Sportsfile via Getty Images


Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): In the sports world he’s got to be near the top, right? Michael Jordan takes the gold obviously but who else do we have? Tom Brady? Now if we’re talking about famous people everywhere, that’s a different story. Good luck dethroning the likes of Elton John, Kurt Russell and Matt Damon.

10. Alright, let’s get down to it — who wins the game, what is the final score, and why do you think that?

Jared Miller (Underdog Dynasty): For anyone hoping for an App State-Michigan level upset here, don’t hold your breath. Notre Dame gets this one and they get it easily. If you’re looking for a hot take, though, I’ll give you this: TSU is going to find the end zone twice. Yes, I know the Fighting Irish all but blanked Navy last weekend and kept them out of the chalk but that triple option didn’t do the Mids any favors. Plus, Tennessee State won’t have to fly 10 hours for this game so all the fatigue that comes with that won’t be there either. The Tigers will score twice but Notre Dame is going to score a heck of a lot more.

Notre Dame is deeper and better everywhere and TSU just doesn’t have what it takes as far as depth and experience to match. As good as some of the individual talent is on the Tigers defense, I’m not sure anyone is ready for Sam Hartman. After last week, it’s tough to bet against that kid.

Give me Notre Dame 52-17.


Okay y’all, I want to once again extend a massive amount of gratitude to Jared for all the detailed, fun, insightful answers he was able to provide for our wide array of questions about a topic (FCS football) that a lot of us probably aren’t able to keep up-to-date on, at least relative to our knowledge of FBS action.

I implore you all to go give Jared a follow on his Twitter, as well as the entire Underdog Dynasty crew at their site Twitter — a couple of excellent follows that really help make Saturdays a blast. Furthermore, make sure you head over to the Underdog Dynasty site to dive into all the great coverage they have for some of the lesser-catered-to conferences and subdivisions of our favorite sport. You certainly won’t be disappointed by the ability to use your Friday work hours to learn way more about the Sun Belt, Conference USA, and American conferences and about the FCS as we head into the first full weekend of college football action.

Otherwise, that’s it for me this week, folks — per usual, GO IRISH, BEAT TIGERS!!!