After a solid 37-31 victory over C-USA rival Southern Mississippi, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (4-2, 3-0 C-USA) hope to build off the momentum gained in their past two games to hand the Marshall Thundering Herd (5-0, 1-0 C-USA) their first loss of the season.
Defeating the Herd would solidify MT atop the Conference-USA East Division with a 4-0 record in conference play.
The Blue Raiders will be looking to duplicate last year’s 51-49 last-second victory over Marshall, when senior quarterback Logan Kilgore connected with wide out Tavarres Jefferson on a 9-yard touchdown as time expired.
This will be no easy task for the Blue Raiders and redshirt sophomore quarterback Austin Grammer, who completed 21 of his 26 passing attempts for 332 yards and two touchdowns last week against Southern Miss.
Marshall’s defense held Old Dominion quarterback Taylor Heinicke to 10-of-25 passing for 85 yards, with one touchdown and an interception in the Thundering Herd’s match up last week.
When MT played the Monarchs, Heinicke threw for 362 yards and had four touchdowns and three interceptions.
This defense could prove to be difficult for Grammer to dissect, and will likely need the help of running backs Jordan Parker, Reggie Whatley and Shane Tucker, who combined for 200 yards and three touchdowns against Southern Miss.
Marshall’s defense allowed Old Dominion running backs Gerard Johnson and Ray Lawry to rush for a combined 206 yards and a touchdown.
“I don’t know if there is a glaring weak spot,” Coach Rick Stockstill said in Monday’s weekly press conference. “When you lead the conference in defensive scoring, least amount of rushing allowed, total defense, they are a good football team. We just have to execute what we do.”
Stockstill and offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner might look to put less pressure on Grammer and put a focus on running the ball with the three-headed attack of Parker, Whatley and Tucker. If MT can find balance on offense, they should be able to successfully put points on the boards against a stingy Marshall defense.
The Blue Raiders will have their hands full with the Thundering Herd’s fourth-ranked scoring offense in the NCAA, averaging nearly 47.6 points per game this season. Middle Tennessee is ranked 91st in scoring defense, giving up 30.7 points per game this year.
The MT defense will be looking for ways to shut down top-notch quarterback Rakeem Cato, who only threw for 198 yards and had two touchdowns and two interceptions against Old Dominion.
Cato has proven to be one of the most consistent quarterbacks in the NCAA, throwing a touchdown in 37 consecutive games, the longest current streak in the FBS and one short of tying the all-time record held by former Wisconsin quarterback Russell Wilson’s mark of 38 straight games with a touchdown through the air.
“Their quarterback (Rakeem Cato) is very good and up for all the awards,” Stockstill said. “He is an excellent quarterback. Playing against him last year we know how talented he is.”
The Blue Raiders will also have their hands full with Marshall running backs Devon Johnson and Remi Watson, who combined for 300 yards and five touchdowns against Old Dominion. MT held the Southern Miss backfield to 98 yards last week, and will look to replicate that effort in Joan C. Edwards Stadium.
“Everybody talks about Cato, like they should, but they are leading the conference in rushing also,” said Stockstill. “We have to tackle well. You have to be successful on first down. Where they are really good is when they can get in second-and-four, second-and-five and now you can run or throw.”
Game time is set for 11 a.m. CT and will be broadcast on Fox Sports Net and locally on the Blue Raider Network.
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