(STATS) - Tennessee State is off to the program's best start in four years, but if that success is to continue it must come with a new - yet familiar - face under center.
With sophomore starter O'Shay Ackerman-Carter done for the season because of a knee injury, senior Ronald Butler takes over the reigns of the offense Saturday as the Tigers (3-0) open Ohio Valley Conference play against visiting UT Martin.
Ackerman-Carter threw for 598 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions before he was injured in the first half of a 31-24 victory at Bethune-Cookman on Sept. 17. The Tigers conveniently had their bye last week so were able to put plenty of time into preparing for life with a new signal-caller.
"That's unfortunate," coach Rod Reed said. "But we have a very capable guy in Ronald Butler running the show."
The Tigers last opened with four straight wins while going 7-0 in 2012, but they only won once the rest of the way and failed to make the playoffs. Reed, though, seems to believe the good times will keep coming with Butler leading the way.
The Tallahassee, Fla., native has played in 31 games at Tennessee State with 13 starts, including eight in 2013 when he was named all-OVC Second Team as a freshman. Butler, who went 7 of 13 for 72 yards with two touchdowns and an interception after Ackerman-Carter was injured, has thrown for more than 2,700 yards with 24 TDs and 15 INTs for his career.
"Our playbook won't change," Reed said. "Ronald has been running this offense for three years. ... We're just going to keep plugging along."
Butler also knows he'll have help from a stellar offensive line in front of him. That unit has allowed just one sack and has paved the way for Tigers backs to average 4.8 yards per carry.
"Hopefully we can continue that trend," Reed said. "We've got to be consistent up front. Hopefully we can keep Butler's uniform clean and run the ball."
The former might be tough against UTM (2-2, 1-0), which has recorded five sacks in the last two games. It's also picked off six passes in 2016. Butler is 13 of 25 for 189 yards and a TD in three games against the Skyhawks, though most of that action came as a freshman.
"This is the biggest challenge we've faced to date," Reed said.
UT Martin will try for a third straight victory in the series and overall. The Skyhawks are tied for seventh in the FCS in scoring (42.8 points per game) and junior quarterback Troy Cook ranks among the national leaders with nine TD passes.
"Rod and I have been competing against each other for a lot of years," UT Martin coach Jason Simpson said. "There's been some good battles."
This contest is part of the annual Sgt. York Trophy competition, an in-season series contested among the league's four Tennessee-based schools. This and the Commander in Chief's - featuring the nation's services academies - are the only traveling trophies in collegiate sports to involve more than two teams. UT Martin won last season's title with victories over Tennessee State, Tennessee Tech and Austin Peay.