Photo by Meagan White/MTSU Sidelines
Week three is in the books, and it’s now time for conference play to begin. The Blue Raiders are 2-1 on the season, coming off a 41-21 victory in a torrential downpour last weekend in Bowling Green, Ohio.
MTSU takes on Louisiana Tech (1-2) this Saturday in a game that will likely go down to the wire.
Last season, the two met in Ruston, Louisiana, where the Bulldogs ran past the Blue Raiders to win 45-16.
The Blue Raiders battled for the first 15 minutes with a kick by Cody Clark closing the lead to 14-10 at the start of the second quarter. From then on, it was all Tech as the Blue Raiders would commit costly mistakes leading to 21 unanswered points going into halftime for the Bulldogs.
Here, we look at three keys to the game as the Blue Raiders take on the Bulldogs on Black Out Night at Floyd Stadium this Saturday.
Key #1 – Establish the running game
In last season’s matchup in Ruston, the Blue Raiders never got their ground game going.
On the day, the Blue Raiders rushed for only 68 yards with then running back Desmond Anderson leading the way, accounting for 30 of those yards. Due in part to Jordan Parker and Jeremiah Bryson being sidelined with injuries last season, MTSU simply had a hard time moving the chains on the ground.
Since I’Tavius Mathers has returned home to Murfreesboro, he has revived the position group.
Through three games, Mathers has run for 284 yards on 47 carries for four touchdowns. He is averaging 94.7 yards per game and six yards per carry. Through the air, he has recorded 13 catches for 186 yards and a touchdown.
Last weekend, Mathers stole the show as the team had to rely on the run game during a very wet day. The Conference USA offensive player of the week recipient produced 157 yards and 3 touchdowns on the ground, while earning 103 yards receiving and a 78-yard touchdown reception.
If the senior is able to perform against Tech like he did last week, the Bulldogs may be in for a rude awakening.
Key #2 – Defensive backs vs. Trent Taylor
The Blue Raider defense is statistically better than they were at this point last year, but this week, they will have their hands full.
Tech receiver Trent Taylor is one of the most highly-touted wideouts in C-USA and in college football. So far this season, Taylor has accumulated 422 yards and five touchdowns with an average of 8.7 receptions per game. His 5 touchdowns on the year are tied for first in the nation.
Last season, the Blue Raiders were able to keep him in check. Taylor was targeted eight times for 97 yards but never found the end zone.
Cornerbacks Jeremy Cutrer and Mike Minter have performed exceptional all season as the team is fourth in the nation in passing yards allowed. However, they will be put to the ultimate test this week.
With Taylor and Cutrer both looking to build their resumes for the NFL, fans and scouts both should have fun watching as the two will likely go head-to-head Saturday.
Key #3 – No turnovers/Create turnovers
MTSU committed two huge turnovers against the Bulldogs last season that killed their momentum and ultimately jumpstarted Tech to a commanding lead at halftime.
So far this season, the Blue Raiders are averaging 40 points per game, and the Bulldogs are averaging just under that at 39.6 points per game.
Defensively, MTSU is giving up 22.7 points per game while Tech is allowing 34.7 points per game.
A turnover for the Blue Raider offense is a missed opportunity, and with the explosiveness of the Bulldogs, making drives count will be key Saturday.
In contrast, coach Tyrone Nix and the defense have momentum coming home after facing a powerful Bowling Green offense, upping the tempo in the second half.
Reigning C-USA Player of the Week Shaq Huff and the men up front will have to lead the charge as whichever defense creates the most turnovers will likely be the victor of the conference opener.