CFN Take: Middle Tenn Run Over By Minnesota
2014 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders ... Head Coach: Rick Stockstill
Sept. 6 at Minnesota 35, Middle Tennessee 24
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Savannah St W 61-7
Sep. 6 at Minnesota L 35-24
Sep. 13 WKU
Sep. 20 at Memphis
Sep. 27 at Old Dominion
Oct. 4 Southern Miss
Oct. 11 at Marshall
Oct. 18 UAB
Oct. 25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 BYU
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 at FIU
Nov. 22 Florida Atlantic
Nov. 29 at UTEP
And You Care Because … Minnesota jumped out to a 28-0 first half lead on short touchdown runs from Donnell Kirkwood and David Cobb, a 27-yard Maxx Williams scoring grab, and a pick six from Jalen Myrick, but Middle Tennessee made it interesting with a 17-pount third quarter helped by Reggie Whatley touchdown runs from 44 and 12 yards out, but a 48-yard Cobb scoring dash put the game away.
What Else? Minnesota QB Mitch Leidner completed 5-of-11 passes for 67 yards and a score with a pick, and he ran five times for 32 yards, but he suffered a slight knee injury late in the game.
- David Cobb ran 29 times for 220 yards and two scores, but the Gophers had a hard time getting the ground game going in the second half to grind out the game – they didn’t put it away easily enough.
- Middle Tennessee’s offense perked up. Austin Grammer only completed 22-of-38 passes, but he threw for 255 yards with a score and three picks.
- Minnesota was outgained 445 yards to 351.
Game Rating: C
Aug. 30 at Middle Tennessee 61, Savannah State 7
And You Care Because … The Blue Raiders scored the first 54 points of the game as Shane Tucker ran for two scores in the first and Jeremiah Bryson added two in the second in the blowout. The two teams combined for six turnovers and 19 penalties, but the story was the MT running game that rolled up 228 yards and six scores. No Blue Raider ran for more than 65 yards.
Game Rating: D-
Vanderbilt hasn’t been Tennessee’s only feel-good story in recent years.
Ever so quietly, Middle Tennessee has been one of the more stable small-school programs in the FBS, bowling in half of Rick Stockstill’s eight years at the controls in Murfreesboro. In last season’s Conference USA debut, the Blue Raiders won eight games for a second consecutive year to earn an Armed Forces Bowl invitation opposite Navy. And now, the program feels it has the right mix of returning veterans, provided a competent quarterback emerges, to take the next step by winning a league crown in 2014.
Stockstill has brought a winning tradition to Middle Tennessee, a school that hasn’t enjoyed much sustained success throughout its history. Sure, the Blue Raiders get SEC left-overs on Signing Day, but they’ve developed a formula for coaching up those kids into productive playmakers. The staff will have to dust off that blueprint once again this offseason, especially as it pertains to the passing game.
The Blue Raiders’ biggest hurdle to success in 2014 will be revamping a passing attack that had been in the capable hands of Logan Kilgore for the past three years. Kilgore used up his eligibility, as did two of his top receivers, Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson. The three-man race to fill the opening at quarterback probably won’t produce a winner until August. Sophomore Austin Grammer, last year’s backup, is the frontrunner. But redshirt freshman AJ Erdely and rookie Brent Stockstill, the coach’s son, are nipping at Grammer’s heels.
The D welcomes back eight starters, the foundation for success in the fall. LB T.T. Barber and SS Kevin Byard are two of Conference USA’s foremost defenders, the catalysts for a unit that wants to attack and create chaos. However, the Blue Raiders have to make strides in run defense this fall. Last year’s team gave up almost 200 yards a game on the ground, and DT Jimmy Staten is no longer around to jam up running lanes.
Stockstill has a good thing going in the ‘Boro, a trend the coach and his staff plan to further in 2014. No doubt there’s work to be done on both sides of the ball. The Blue Raiders, though, are confident that they can compete with anyone in Conference USA. So confident, in fact, that they’ve set the bar at winning a league championship for the first time since 2006.
What to watch for on offense: The development of the receivers. The Blue Raiders are loaded in the backfield with Jordan Parker, Reggie Whatley and Jeremiah Bryson. But who’s going to balance off the attack by catching the new quarterback’s passes? While Marcus Henry is a steady veteran at “H”, fingers are crossed that newcomers Shannon Smith and Jevontey Smith, redshirt freshmen, and JUCO transfer Ed’Marques Batties can make an immediate splash. They all have good size, and Batties was whipping defensive backs in practice last fall.
What to watch for on defense: The search for a steady pass rush. Middle Tennessee’s desire to get after it on defense resulted in 33 takeaways. Sacks, though, were tougher to come by. Leighton Gasque, a projected backup linebacker, is the only Blue Raider to get to the quarterback more than three times in 2013. Tyrone Nix and Steve Ellis’ unit would really benefit from more pressure off the edge. In other words, returning ends Alexandro Antoine, Shubert Bastien and Jiajuan Fennell must step up their play this season.
This team will be far better if … the passing game takes advantage of all of the attention that the backs will receive. Opposing defenses will gear in the fall to stop the deep Middle Tennessee ground game. It’ll be up to the new quarterback and his targets to capitalize when the box is crowded. Despite having a well-protected veteran at the controls in 2013, the Blue Raiders threw 15 interceptions, while ranking 85th nationally in passing efficiency. There’s no reason why this team can’t be more effective over the top, especially on play-action.
The Schedule: The Blue Raiders don't have it that bad after going to Minnesota after starting out the year with a warmup against Savannah State.
If they can play close to the level of last season,
they should be able to roll through the first half
of the schedule - 5-1 isn't out of the question
before going to Marshall. Assuming the BYU home game
is a loss after a week off, it should still be a
great season with only three teams on the schedule
that went bowling last year - Minnesota, Marshall
and BYU - and without two road games in a row over
the second half of the season. A stretch of three
road games in four weeks in the first half of the
year isn't so bad considering two of the away games
are at Memphis and Old Dominion. Getting UAB,
Southern Miss and UTEP from the West will help.
Best Offensive Player: Junior RB Jordan Parker. The identity of the Middle Tennessee offense centers on a power running game that’s led by Parker. The Blue Raiders are very deep in a backfield that also includes Reggie Whatley and Jeremiah Bryson. But Parker is the leading man of the unit. He sets the tone by powering through the middle of defenses, wearing them down in the latter stages of games. Parker has not played a full season, yet he led the team in rushing as a freshman and a sophomore. With a bigger load of work, he has the skills to be one of Conference USA’s top offensive players.
Best Defensive Player: Sophomore LB T.T. Barber. The Blue Raiders want to play an attacking brand of defense that forces offenses into costly mistakes. Barber is the face of the philosophy in Murfreesboro. In just his second season out of high school, he took Conference USA by storm with a monster season from wire-to-wire. Barber is small, fast and highly instinctive, roaming the field with a frenetic pace that disrupts the rhythm of the offense. He’s a playmaker, who’ll keep getting better with the more reps he receives.
Key player to a successful season: Sophomore QB Austin Grammer. If the Blue Raiders are serious about wearing the Conference USA crown in 2014, Grammer must be ready to seize the opening behind center. The Tuscaloosa native advertised his legs last year, rushing for 106 yards against North Texas, but his arm talent remains unclear. If Grammer struggles to padlock the job during the offseason, Middle Tennessee could face the prospect of going into the season with a freshman calling out signals.
The season will be a success if ... the Blue Raiders win at least eight games for a third year in a row. This season in Murfreesboro is about continuing the winning climate and competing for a Conference USA title. The schedule won’t be too demanding, save for a visit from BYU and road trips to Minnesota and Marshall. And as one of the deeper programs in the league, Middle Tennessee ought to lock down a bowl berth by mid-November, with a couple of games to spare.
Key game: Oct. 11 at Marshall. The top two teams in the East Division meet in Huntington with a lot riding on the outcome. While others can certainly get in the hunt, the Blue Raiders and the Thundering Herd are the clear frontrunners now that East Carolina is playing in the American. Middle Tennessee and Marshall hooked up in a classic shootout at Floyd Stadium last Oct. 24 in a game won by the former, 51-49.
2013 Fun Stats:
- Fumbles lost: Middle Tennessee 6 – Opponents 18
- First-quarter scoring: Middle Tennessee 110 – Opponents 62
- Sacks: Middle Tennessee 27 - Opponents 16
- 2014 Middle Tennessee Preview -
What You Need To Know & Top Players