CFN Take: Middle Tenn Rallies By FAU
2014 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders ... Head Coach: Rick Stockstill
Nov. 22 at Middle Tennessee 35, Florida Atlantic 34
2014 Schedule |
Aug. 30 Savannah St W 61-7
Sep. 6 at Minnesota L 35-24
Sep. 13 WKU W 50-47 3 OT
Sep. 20 at Memphis L 36-17
Sep. 27 at Old Dominion W 41-28
Oct. 4 Southern Miss W 37-31
Oct. 11 at Marshall L 49-24
Oct. 18 UAB W 38-22
Oct. 25 OPEN DATE
Nov. 1 BYU L 27-7
Nov. 8 OPEN DATE
Nov. 15 at FIU L 38-28
Nov. 22 Florida Atlantic W 35-34
Nov. 29 at UTEP
And You Care Because … Marcus Henry caught a 12-yard touchdown pass on fourth and goal with 19 seconds to play to tie it, and Cody Clark’s extra point gave Middle Tennessee the lead for good after rallying back from down 13 in the third. Florida Atlantic started out the scoring on a Lucky Whitehead 80-yard touchdown run on the first play of the game, and got two Jaquez Johnson touchdown passes in the second half and a one-yard scoring run in the second quarter, but Reggie Whatley brought the Blue Raiders back on a 75-yard touchdown run in the third and a nine-yard dash late in the fourth. The Middle Tennessee struggled all game long to come up with a key stop until it absolutely had to in the final few minutes.
What Else? Total yards: Florida Atlantic 540 – Middle Tennessee 470
- Middle Tennessee RB Reggie Whatley ran 19 times for 190 yards and three scores
- Florida Atlantic QB Jaquez Johnson completed 21-of-33 passes for 304 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, and ran 11 times for 53 yards and a score
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 20-of-27 passes for 160 yards and two touchdowns with a pick ,and ran ten times for 47 yards
Game Rating: B+
Nov. 15 at FIU 38, Middle Tennessee 28
And You Care Because … FIU scored 21 third quarter points to take the lead for good with Jonnu Smith catching hit third touchdown pass of the game and Davison Colimon returning an interception 79 yards for a touchdown. Anthon Samuel scored on a two-yard touchdown run late in the third, and the defense did the rest with takeaways and stops in the fourth. Middle Tennessee got up 21-3 on three Austin Grammer touchdown passes, but Smith came up with touchdown catches from ten and 40 yards out at the end of the first half, with the second coming on the last play of the quarter. The Blue Raiders pulled back in it on a Jeremiah Bryson ten-yard run in the third, but Samuel’s run to cap off an 85-yard drive was enough.
What Else? FIU TE Jonnu Smith caught eight passes for 140 yards and three scores
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 21-of-33 passes for 286 yards and three touchdowns with three picks, and ran ten times for 19 yards
- FIU RB Anthon Samuel ran 19 times for 120 yards and a score
- Turnovers: FIU 5 – Middle Tennessee 1
Game Rating: B-
Nov. 1 BYU 27, at Middle Tennessee 7
And You Care Because … BYU let the defense do the work, stuffing the Middle Tennessee offense outside of one long second quarter scoring drive, finishing with a 22-yard Devin Clarke touchdown catch. BYU scored 17 unanswered points with Christian Stewart throwing a 10-yard touchdown pass to Jordan Leslie and putting the game away on a one-yard scoring run in the fourth.
What Else? Total yards: BYU 444 – Middle Tennessee 228
- BYU QB Christian Stewart completed 28-of-45 passes for 316 yards and two touchdowns, and ran for five yards and a score
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 16-of-32 passes for 119 yards and a score with two picks
- BYU RB Jamaal Williams ran 16 times for 49 yards
Game Rating: D+
Oct. 18 at Middle Tennessee 34, UAB 22
And You Care Because … UAB couldn’t overcome its big mistakes and had to settle for three Ty Long field goals and a one-yard Jordan Howard touchdown run in the first half. Middle Tennessee got two Jeremiah Bryson touchdown runs and a 65-yard Chris Perkins scoring grab, but it was behind going into the fourth after the Blazers got a 43-yard Jamari Staples touchdown catch. Reggie Whatley ran for a 67-yard score and Marcus Henry caught a 30-yard scoring pass as the Blue Raiders scored 13 unanswered points.
What Else? Middle Tennessee RB Reggie Whatley ran seven times for 100 yards and a score
- UAB RB Jordan Howard ran 32 times for 121 yards and a score
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 6-of-19 passes for 141 yards and two scores
- Penalties: UAB 10 for 90 yards – Middle Tennessee 8 for 70 yards
Game Rating: C+
Oct. 11 at Marshall 49, Middle Tennessee 24
And You Care Because … Marshall got up 14-0 right away on two of Devon Johnson’s three touchdown runs, and Rakeem Cato and the passing game had few problems, too. Cato threw two touchdown passes in the second quarter, ran for a four yard score in the third, and found Craig Wilkins for a second time on the fourth. Middle Tennessee tried to keep pace, with Austin Grammer throwing two short touchdown passes, but Marshall was never threatened after the first quarter.
What Else? Marshall QB Rakeem Cato extended his streak of games with a touchdown pass with 38. He completed 17-of-33 passes for 337 yards and three touchdowns with a pick, and ran for a score
- Middle Tennessee RB Jordan Parker ran 14 times for 100 yards
- Marshall RB Devon Johnson ran 19 times for 134 yards and three touchdowns
- Each team committed eight penalties for 101 yards
Game Rating: C
Oct. 4 at Middle Tennessee 37, Southern Miss 31
And You Care Because … Middle Tennessee got Shane Tucker touchdown runs from one and 44 yards out, and Terry Pettis caught a 59-yard scoring pass and Reggie Whatley ran for a 64-yard score for a 37-18 lead, but Southern Miss kept on pushing with Nick Mullins throwing three fourth quarter touchdown passes with two 17-yarders to Michael Thomas and an eight-yard play to Marquise Ricard with 27 seconds to play to pull within six, but the Blue Raiders recovered the ensuing onside kick.
What Else? Total yards: Middle Tennessee 583 – Southern Miss 537
- Southern Miss QB Nick Mullen completed 36-of-54 passes for 426 yards and three scores with a pick
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 21-of-26 passes for 332 yards and two touchdowns, and ran seven times for 35 yards
- Southern Miss WR Michael Thomas caught nine passes for 114 yards and two touchdowns
Game Rating: B
Sept. 26 Middle Tennessee 41, at Old Dominion 28
And You Care Because … Middle Tennessee got up 24-0 with a second quarter explosion helped by big defensive plays, forcing four turnovers on the day, and getting a Kevin Byard punt return for a score and a Austin Grammer touchdown pass from 27 yards out to Shane Tucker just 31 seconds later. Grammer ran for a seven-yard score a few minutes later, but ODU forced its way back into the game on three Taylor Heinike touchdown passes for Antonio Vaughan from 27, 20 and four yards out, but a second Grammer scoring run kept the Blue Raiders comfortable ahead.
What Else? Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 25-of-30 passes for 259 yards and two scores, and ran 11 times for 67 yards and two touchdowns
- Old Dominion QB Taylor Heinike completed 29-of-44 passes for 362 yards and four scores with three picks
- Middle Tennessee RB Jordan Parker ran 31 times for 158 yards
- Old Dominion WR Antonio Vaughan caught seven passes for 105 yards and three scores
Game Rating: C+
Sept. 20 at Memphis 36, Middle Tennessee 17
And You Care Because … Memphis LB Tank Jake came up with a sack for a safety, picked off a pass and forced a key fumble, and the offense rolled without a problem with Paxton Lynch finding Alan Cross for touchdown passes from seven and 50 yards out, and with a 32-yard Doroland Dorceus run. The Tiger D kept the game a relative blowout with a 59-yard Bobby McCain fumble return for a score in the fourth. Middle Tennessee got two short touchdown runs from Shane Tucker.
What Else? Total yards: Memphis 480 – Middle Tennessee 325
- Memphis QB Paxton Lynch completed 21-of-35 passes for 219 yards and two touchdowns with a pick
- Rushing yards: Memphis 261 – Middle Tennessee 88
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completes 24-of-35 passes for 237 yards and a pick
Game Rating: C-
Sept. 13 at Middle Tennessee 50, WKU 47 3OT
And You Care Because … In the third overtime, WKU got a 27-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal, but Middle Tennessee answered with a 25-yard Ed’Marques Batties touchdown catch to end a wild game. WKU put it into overtime on a 24-yard Schwettman field goal, and then the two teams started trading punches in overtime with Austin Grammer running for a score for MT, and Brandon Doughty, who threw for 593 yards, found Mitchell Henry for a 25-yard score. Grammer ran for three touchdowns, for the Blue Raiders including a 59-yarder to start the fun.
What Else? WKU put up 718 yards of total offense in the loss. Brandon Doughty completed 43-of-66 passes for 593 yards and four scores with a pick.
- Middle Tennessee QB Austin Grammer completed 17-of-28 passes for 218 yards and a score, and he ran 19 times for 125 yards and three touchdowns.
- Three different WKU receivers went over 100 yards, led by Nicholas Norris and his six catches for 174 yards and one score.
- Middle Tennessee ran for 323 yards and five scores, averaging 5.3 yards per pop.
Game Rating: A
Sept. 6 at Minnesota 35, Middle Tennessee 24
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