MTSU came up with a strong performance Friday night at Old Dominion, beating the Monarchs 41-28.
“To play as well as we did, it shows how confident we are,” said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “We’re hungry.”
MTSU forced ODU into two early turnovers. They weren’t able to turn these into any points, but it felt like they changed the game.
“It gave the defense a lot of confidence,” said Stockstill. “When you get turnovers though, you have to convert them into points. That was the disappointing thing.”
The Blue Raiders were able to build up a 24-7 lead by the end of the first half. In the second half, the Monarchs would cut the lead down to ten, but MTSU would always come up with an answer.
“We didn’t take the foot off the gas,” said Stockstill. “We answered each score. I was proud of how we played in the second half.”
Safety Kevin Byard fueled the defense’s play with an interception and a forced fumble. He also scored a touchdown on a 76-yard punt return.
“He studies the game,” said Stockstill. “He’s just a good, good football player.” “He works really hard,” said offensive lineman Isaiah Anderson. “He battles and makes plays. That’s what Kevin does.”
The running game was also a key element for MTSU in the win at ODU. The Blue Raiders ran for 280 yards, and running back Jordan Parker ran for a career-high 158 yards.
“I have a ton of confidence in all four [Jordan Parker, Shane Tucker, Jeremiah Bryson, and Reggie Whatley] of them,” said Stockstill. “After how poorly we played at Memphis, we wanted to prove we could run the ball,” said Anderson.
Quarterback Austin Grammer also had a great game. He completed a career-high 25 passes, threw for two touchdowns, and ran for two more.
“I thought he played well,” said Stockstill. “The best thing he did is he didn’t turn the ball over. He was able to make some plays with his feet and convert a few first downs.”
MTSU will now turn its focus to the Southern Miss Golden Eagles. The Golden Eagles had a combined record of 1-23 over the 2012 and 2013 seasons, but they have already won two games this season.
“They’re improved in all three phases of the game,” said Stockstill. “Their defense was giving up a lot of points last year, but they aren’t this year. Their games are competitive.”
One concern for MTSU will be Southern Miss’ opportunistic defense. Through five games this season, the Golden Eagles defense has forced 11 turnovers.
“You prepare yourself,” said Stockstill. “It’s about us protecting the ball.”
Along with being opportunistic, the Southern Miss defense ranks 27th in red zone defense. This will make for a tough matchup as the Blue Raiders are 24-for-26 in the red zone.
“We’ve proven we can score against anyone,” said Stockstill.
The Golden Eagles are off to an 0-1 start in Conference-USA play after their loss to Rice last week. The Blue Raiders, however, are 2-0 in conference play.
“You always want to have a fast start,” said linebacker Leighton Gasque. “Our goal is to play in the Conference USA Championship game,” said Anderson. “It’s a long road,” said Stockstill. We put ourselves in a good spot.”
MTSU will take on Southern Miss this Saturday at Floyd Stadium at 11 a.m. The game can also be heard on the Blue Raider Network.
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To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email email@example.com