Middle Tennessee State: Moving On Up

This is the first of a 12-part series previewing each of the Thundering Herd’s 2014 opponents. We’ll be going through in reverse order of difficulty instead of the usual chronological order. Because Alex Vance is lazy, we are skipping the #10 Miami Redhawks for now and moving on to Middle Tennessee State.

Opponent #9: Middle Tennessee State

The Blue Raiders had a slow start last season but finishing 8-5 thanks to a five game winning streak that was stopped by Navy in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl. MTSU went 5-1 in Conference USA East while knocking off the Thundering Herd on a last season play.

Greatest Game played at the Floyd?

Wow. I mean it was a good game but I didn’t know a win over Marshall would be held in such high regard. That nine yard pass from Logan Kilgore to Tavarres Jefferson as time expired has a good call as Jefferson turned around at the goal line to hand Marshall its third loss of the season and at the time cast doubt on whether the Herd had turned the corner or not.

It wasn’t one of Rakeem Cato’s better game’s either as he was 19 for 35 with three touchdowns, one interception, and only about 6.7 yards per a completion. The Blue Raiders effectively cut down on the passing game stretching the field out like it usually did. The Sagrin Rating have them at 99th right now, not impressive but this is a team that is hard to get a good handle on. Did they simply get better as the season wore on? Or did they just beat the teams they should? In their three game losing streak before getting on a roll they lost to BYU and UNC, as well as North Texas.

The Marshall win at home was followed by victories over UAB, Florida International, Southern Miss and UTEP, all teams they should have been able to beat and did. They took care of business and beat up on those teams but in the majority of their losses they couldn’t get anything done on either side of the ball.  They were middle of the road in scoring last year with an average of 29 point for, and 26.2 against per a game. They operated on the edge in that regard. Either way the Blue Raiders turned the corner and finished the year three wins over .500 and earned themselves a bowl game.  

But that was the past. This is the now.

Coach Rick Stockstill has gotten the program back on an upward trend with a strong finish last year and is hoping this year’s team can continue that trend. Let’s not forget in 2009 MTSU was getting a few votes in the polls. But keeping the program on this path is going to need a quarterback, and right now they haven’t chosen one. But let’s assume sophomore Austin Grammer and the coach won’t go the nepotistic route and put his son in at quarterback. Grammer only saw real action in the loss to North Texas where he went 6 for 22 for 36 yards, so I don’t think we can glean much from past performance.  

Tactics and Such

Regardless of last year’s performance the Blue Raiders will be adapting their offense from a pocket-passing attack to a more run heavy approach according to USA Today’s Paul Myerberg.

But this year’s team lacks a Kilgore, essentially transitioning from a pocket-passing veteran to a handful of run-first, dual-threat quarterbacks. Again: Stockstill and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner won’t tailor quarterbacks to the offense; the offense will tailor to the quarterback.

Last season MTSU had the nation’s 31st ranked rushing attack all of their threats from last year will return.

Rushing 2013
Rk Player Att Yds Avg TD
1 Jordan Parker 146 745 5.1 6
2 Reggie Whatley 101 657 6.5 3
3 Jeremiah Bryson 82 398 4.9 3
4 Shane Tucker 44 241 5.5 5
6 Austin Grammer 33 169 5.1 2

All four are pretty much a solid bet for five yards a carry but the question might be how will a different QB and a more pass heavy approach affect their ability to run the ball? You can also see when Grammer was in the game he was used more for his running than his passing. While he didn’t get a ton of reps either way last season, I’d expect him to continue to use his legs plenty often. Last year the Blue Raiders had about a 55/45 run-pass split and that’s only going to get heavier this year it appears. They’ll have three sophomores along the line that saw action last season (and starters Isaiah Anderson and Darius Johnson) so they’ll have some experienced help paving the way for the runners as well. When they do pass Marcus Henry returns as their leading receiver with 38 catches for 549 yards, an 14.45 yards per a catch average.If Grammer can begin to be more of a passer (or if Brent Stockstill gets the start), it might open up much needed running lanes for the offense to exploit. Until they decide on a quarterback it is hard to know for sure what to expect from them offensively. On the defensive side they’ll have eight starters returning from last year’s 6oth ranked defense so expect improvement there as well.

Dec 30, 2013; Fort Worth, TX, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders linebacker T.T. Barber (38) and a teammate celebrate a fumble recovery in the third quarter of the game at Amon G. Carter Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports

T.T. Barber returns at line backer and led they was in tackles with 73, 11.5 tackles for a loss, while Leighton Gasque led the way in sacks with 5 of the team’s 27. They return plenty of defensive linemen but they will need to improve their run defense which ranked 96th in the nation last season. The defense was passable last year but just like the team has been on a steady road of improvement.

Know Thy Opponent

Location: Murfreesboro, Tennessee, home of the Battle of Stone’s River.

On December 31, 1862, advancing forces under Union general William Rosecrans fought a pitched battle with Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee on the outskirts of Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Both generals formed plans of attack, but Bragg struck first, pulverizing the Union right flank with two veteran divisions. False reports indicating a Union retreat kept Bragg in place on January 1, but January 2 dawned with Rosecrans stubbornly holding his ground. Bragg ordered Gen. John Breckinridge and his division to charge the Union left late in the afternoon. Breckinridge’s men crossed an open field and nearly achieved a breakthrough, but massed artillery broke up the assault at the climactic moment. Although the battle to that point had been a tactical draw, the arrival of Union reinforcements made Bragg’s position untenable. He retreated on January 3, granting the North a valuable strategic victory in the middle of an otherwise dismal winter.

History: According to Wikipedia, the team’s name came from a newspaper contest.

The nickname of the Middle Tennessee athletic teams is the Blue Raiders. Female teams were long known as the Lady Raiders, but adopted the Blue Raiders name in 2007. The nickname’s origin goes back to a 1934 newspaper contest. An MT football player, Charles Sarver, won $5 from Murfreesboro’s The Daily News Journal with his winning entry “Blue Raiders”, which he later admitted borrowing fromColgate University, whose teams were known as “Raiders” at the time. No official nickname existed prior to 1934, when teams were called “Normalites”, “Teachers”, and “Pedagogues”

Blue Raiders is certainly better than Normalites… or whatever a Pedagogues is. (It is a teacher, especially a strict or pedantic one.) Against the Herd: With there win last year, The Normalites Blue Raiders are 1-2 against the Herd. Mascot: Lightning, a blue winged horse. This is another improvement over a klansmen. Again, to Wikipedia.

MTSU’s original mascot was Nathan Bedford Forrest, a Confederate General and the founder of the Ku Klux Klan. Because of Forrest’s ties to the Ku Klux Klan, the mascot was later changed to a blue-coloredscent hound dog named “Ole Blue” in the 1970s.

Famous Alumni: While MTSU gave the world a pair of Nobel Prize Winners in James M. Buchanan and Muhammad Yunus, I’m more interested in their contributions to music with Amy Lee of Evanescence…

or musical composer George S. Clinton, who have us this gem…

Chance of Victory

67%. The question for Middle Tennessee State is whether they hit a peak last year or if they are still climbing. If they are still improving then they certainly can be a tough opponent even when the come to the Joan on Oct. 11. They have a number of returning players, but the question will be if the quarterback, whoever that may be, can keep the running game from being too predictable. That is the big if. I think they could be trouble for the Herd either way, they proved that last season. But Marshall only looks to be better too.


Marshall 38, Middle Tennessee State 30.

Tags: Marshall Thundering Herd Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

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