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CARBONDALE — UT Martin had to rally to win its first game against Northwestern State, scoring 28 unanswered points to prevail 42-20.

The Skyhawks (1-1) played a pretty clean game at 11th ranked Florida on Saturday, as far as committing only five penalties and turning the ball over once in a 45-0 loss. Eight first downs and 54 yards rushing didn't cut it on offense, 14th-year coach Jason Simpson said, but his defense gave his team a chance.

Florida's longest scoring play in the second half was a 16 yard run in the final four minutes.

"I thought our defense played really well in the first half. It's 3-0 at end of the first quarter, 17-0 at halftime. It got really loud there in The Swamp in the second quarter as they were trying to get some stops, and they certainly did against our offense," Simpson said. "We struggled with the noise, and we struggled blocking their front seven. They have a really fast defensive line, but there were some bright sides and some things we can build on."

UT Martin also had some things to build on in its season opener against Northwestern State, an FCS opponent from the Southland Conference. Trailing 20-14 at the half, the Skyhawks scored on offense, defense and special teams in the second half. Safety Wanya Moton returned an interception 78 yards for a touchdown and wide receiver Terry Williams returned a punt 55 yards for a score.

Safety JaQuez Akins (19 tackles) and linebacker Sherrod Pittman (18) lead UT Martin in tackles. Nose tackle Austin Pickett, part of a unique 3-3-5 scheme the Skyhawks play, leads the team with 3.0 tackles for loss and 2.0 sacks.

Pittman, a 6-foot, 225-pound senior from Jacksonville, Florida, transferred from South Carolina three years ago. Pittman had 11 tackles, 2.5 tackles for loss and two pass breakups against Northwestern State. At Florida, he had seven stops and two quarterback hurries as part of UT Martin's developing defense.

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"He was a special teams guy the first couple years although he had some spot-starts and played well," Simpson said. "We had some more established linebackers, but, him and T.J. Jefferson both have done a great job of taking over the starting roles at our linebacker positions. I can't say enough about how Sherrod practices, the energy he brings every day and on Saturday."

The Skyhawks lost six starters on defense from last year's 2-9 squad. Defensive end Julian Crutchfield and Pickett were preseason all-conference picks, along with left tackle Terry Fultz.

John Bachus III, a 6-2, 210-pound redshirt freshman quarterback, made his second career start at Florida. Bachus played in three games last year as a true freshman and got the year back through the NCAA's new four-game rule, which allows first-year players to compete in up to four games without losing a year of eligibility. Bachus completed only 8 of 20 passes for 130 yards against Northwestern State, with two touchdowns and one interception. He was picked off once at Florida, where he completed 12 of 19 passes. UT Martin features two big receivers (6-4 Rodney Williams and 6-2 Jaylon Moore) and two running backs that will likely get the majority of the carries Saturday, when the Skyhawks take on SIU (1-1).

Peyton Logan, a 5-8, 180-pound junior, has the team's only two rushing touchdowns this season and is also the second-leading receiver with five catches and 59 yards. Jaimee Bowe, a graduate, rushed for 52 yards on 18 carries so far this year. Bowe's 17 career touchdowns rank seventh in school history.

Terry Williams, a 5-10, 165-pound senior, leads the Skyhawks with six catches for 50 yards and also returns kicks. On six returns, Williams has 111 yards (18.5 per return).

SIU coach Nick Hill expects a battle Saturday.

"They've got a young quarterback that they're playing. They've got a good back. They've got a wide receiver that's gonna have a chance to play on Sundays," he said. "They do a really good job of mixing things up. Defensively, they create some problems because they run a scheme that you don't see a ton, a 3-3-5, and do a good job of mixing things up, so we've gotta do a good job with our plan and diving into that film and putting our guys into good positions."

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todd.hefferman@thesouthern.com

618-351-5087

On Twitter: @THefferman

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