Middle Tennessee faced one of the toughest teams in the country on Saturday, No. 2 Alabama, and they were out to prove something to anyone who doubted their will.
Offensively, the Blue Raiders started sluggish. On the first play of the half Christian Collis fumbled, giving Alabama great field position, ultimately leading to the first touchdown of the game for the Tide.
The Blue Raiders didn’t let that affect them as much as some might think. On their next possession, the offense moved the ball with ease, before ultimately stalling with a missed field goal from 46 yards by kicker Cody Clark.
The defense was pivotal for Middle Tennessee on the day, forcing stop after stop in the first quarter, and in a game where so many miscues could spell doom. However, the Blue Raiders were down just 7-0 after the first quarter, and were in full control of the tempo, outgaining the Tide 120-66 in total yards.
Opening the second quarter, the offense was looking to capitalize, and put the game back in their favor. A 20-yard field goal by Cody Clark opened up the scoring for Middle Tennessee, and the game seemed manageable.
The first defensive slip-up of the day cost the Blue Raiders, as a Jared Singletary pass interference call at the 11-yard line negated one of the better stops by the defense. Alabama running back Derrick Henry wouldn’t take long to capitalize, scoring his first touchdown of the day, putting the Tide up 14-3.
Moving the ball well, Middle Tennessee seemed to once again be putting together an impressive drive in hostile territory. The drive would fall when Stockstill’s pass was intercepted by Cyrus Jones at the Alabama 30.
The momentum swung almost instantly, and just two plays later the game seemed all but over. A 69-yard catch and run by Kenyan Drake was capped off by Derrick Henry, for his second touchdown of the day.
Check out Staff Photographer Greg French‘s photos from the game:
The Tide led at the half 23-3, thanks to a blocked punt near halftime that resulted in a safety.
Blue Raider safety Kevin Byard was ejected early in the third quarter for targeting, in a helmet-to-helmet collision with Alabama quarterback Cooper Bateman.
“I feel like I did everything right on the play,” Byard said. “The quarterback slid late, I didn’t really mean to do it. I just have to live with it.”
Alabama was in full rhythm in the second half, putting up a pair of touchdowns in the third quarter, extending the lead to 37-3.
The highlight of the second half for the Blue Raiders was when backup quarterback Austin Grammer came in late in the game, ultimately throwing a touchdown, the first of the day.
“That’s definitely something I’ve dreamed about,” Grammer said about coming home. “I grew up watching this team.”
Grammer, a Tuscaloosa native, escaped the pocket and fired a strike to wideout Rod Ducksworth. The Tide milked the clock for the remaining five minutes, taking the victory 37-10.
Richie James had another big day offensively for Middle Tennessee, finishing with 10 catches for 95 yards, including a 21 yard catch that set up the Blue Raiders at the Alabama goal line.
“The same thing, just to prepare,” James said about his plan for next weeks game against Charlotte. “This was our hardest game, it’s about to get real now.”
“We had a hell of a plan,” Stockstill said. “Richie is a special player, we were able to get him the ball.”
Stockstill finished 22-42 with 174 yards and one INT on the day, including 29 yards on the ground.
Middle Tennessee returns to Murfreesboro for their first C-USA game of the season against Charlotte on Sept. 19. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m.
To contact sports editor Michael Ward email firstname.lastname@example.org.