Blue Raiders Look to Finish Season Strong


Blue Raiders lose long struggle against BYU. Photo by Greg French MTSU Sidelines Staff Photographer

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – After losing two games in a row, Middle Tennessee (6-5, 5-2 C-USA) bounced back Saturday to beat Florida Atlantic, 35-34, at Floyd Stadium.

The Blue Raiders won the game on a 12-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Austin Grammer to wide receiver Marcus Henry on fourth-and-goal with 19 seconds remaining.

“That game tested your manhood,” MT Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “It would have been easy to give up after a hard FIU loss. To me, it was a proud moment.”

With the win, MTSU picked up their sixth win of the season, making the Blue Raiders bowl eligible for the sixth time in nine seasons under Stockstill.

They had failed the previous two weeks to reach that elusive sixth win.

“I can’t be more proud of this program in the nine years I’ve been here,” Stocksill said. “It’s a sense of pride for me.”

The Blue Raiders will now turn their attention to UTEP (6-5, 4-3 C-USA). The game will be played in UTEP’s historic stadium, the Sun Bowl.

This will be only the second time these two schools have faced one another, and it will be the Blue Raiders’ first trip to El Paso, having won last year’s matchup at Floyd Stadium.

“As a competitor, it’s just another arena you play in,” Stockstill said about the road trip. “We want to go get that seventh win.”

“It’s always great to go play in a place like that,” senior linebacker Leighton Gasque added. “Coming to MTSU, I have had a lot of chances to play in big stadiums.”

The Miners are a tougher opponent than Middle Tennessee’s last two games. UTEP is leading C-USA in time of possession, having the ball an average of 35:01 per game.

The Blue Raiders rank ninth in the conference in the same category, averaging 28:53 time of possession per game.

“Getting off the field will be important for both teams,” Stockstill said. “We have to be good on defense on the early downs, so they don’t get into third and manageable. It will be critical.”

This game will also feature two of the best rushing offenses in Conference-USA, with MTSU ranking second and UTEP sitting at third.

The Blue Raiders’ ground attack will enter Saturday’s matchup firing on all cylinders after a 310 yard rushing performance against FAU this past Saturday.

Senior running back Reggie Whatley had a career-high 190 yards on the ground and tallied 321 all-purpose yards on his way to being named C-USA Offensive Player of the Week.

“You have to get a lot of hats to the ball and set the edges,” said Stockstill, speaking on how to stop the UTEP running game. “The team that runs the ball more effectively wins. I don’t care who you’re playing.”

If the Blue Raiders win this Saturday, they would secure a winning season heading into a bowl game.

“We want to win this game this week, and we’ll worry about all that other stuff later,” Stockstill said.

The game will be played at the Sun Bowl in El Paso. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. The game can be seen on the American Sports Network and heard locally on the Blue Raider Network.

For more Blue Raider sports, follow us at www.mtsusidelines.com, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Sport

To contact sports editor Connor Grott, email sports@mtsusidelines.com

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