Photo by Devon Arnold/MTSU Sidelines
Middle Tennessee (1-0) opened the 2016 season Saturday night, taking on SWAC opponent Alabama A&M (0-1) at Floyd Stadium. New Blue Raiders and seasoned Blue Raiders combined in a dominant effort on both sides of the ball, shutting out the Bulldogs 55-0.
“I was really impressed with our offense, especially in the first half,” head coach Rick Stockstill said. “We put up almost 5o0 yards, 42 points I think. We did a really nice job I thought. We made plays.”
Redshirt-senior I’Tavius Mathers didn’t wait long for his first touchdown in a Middle Tennessee uniform, taking just his second carry 32 yards to the house to put the Blue Raiders up 7-0. Mathers finished with 62 yards on seven carries.
“It felt pretty good. You gotta give credit to the offensive line and receivers for blocking and helping, making my job easier.” Mathers said about the first touchdown. “I trusted in the line to do their job and Demetrius (Frazier) to do his job, like I said, I just had to run it into the end zone.”
Overall the team came into Saturday’s opener lacking depth at wideout after losing three receivers to injuries in weeks prior. Running back Desmond Anderson moved to wide receiver to help with depth and made an immediate impact. Brent Stockstill found Anderson on just the second drive for a 24-yard touchdown on a perfectly floated ball in the end zone.
“It was a perfect throw,” Anderson said. “Brent was trying to get the snap off early because he saw that the corner was playing inside. I trusted his throw and it was just right on the money, landed straight in my hands.”
Defensively the Blue Raiders kept Bulldog senior quarterback De’Angelo Ballard at bay, solving the offense within a few plays. Ballard, a dual-threat quarterback, found success early on, but couldn’t get drives going as time went on.
It was a first quarter to remember, with the offense clicking at an extraordinary clip. Stockstill started the game 22-22 before his first incompletion, breaking Logan Kilgore’s record for consecutive completions with 19 while throwing for three touchdowns in the first quarter.
“I thought coach Franklin did a great job preparing,” Brent Stockstill said. “Coming into the game I was extremely confident. To complete 22 straight balls, 22 guys gotta catch it so credit to those guys. Offensive line did a great job protecting me all night. So it was a fun night to get out there and play somebody else for once, so I thought we did a pretty good job.”
Nashville native Patrick Smith, in his first start for the Blue Raiders, caught his first touchdown pass of his career with just under two minutes left in the first quarter. Four different Blue Raiders would score in the first quarter.
At the half, the Blue Raiders were cruising up 45-0 and were dominant in every facet of the game. Stockstill’s five first-half touchdowns put him at 35 in his young career, good for seventh all-time in Middle Tennessee history.
Richie James started a strong sophomore campaign in the short work he saw. James finished with eight catches for 73 yards and a six-yard touchdown catch.
Even with losing another receiver in Demetrius Frazier after an injury celebrating a first quarter touchdown, the offense didn’t seem to skip a beat. Both Smith and true freshman Ty Lee made impressive catches, while redshirt senior transfer Dennis Andrews racked up yards in a hurry including his touchdown catch.
“That was my first touchdown in college,” Andrews said about switching from a triple-option offense at Georgia Tech to the spread that Middle Tennessee focuses on. “I just chose to celebrate with my teammates. I’m liking this offense right now.”
Andrews wasn’t the only transfer to make an impact, with Deontay Evans intercepting Demion May in the red zone in the third quarter to sustain the shutout effort.
Defensively Darius Liggins showed out, amassing two sacks, both in Alabama A&M territory and both drive killers.
Backups got the nod seeing extended minutes after the lead grew. John Urzua took place under center for Stockstill to start the second half. Stockstill finished the night 30-36 for 329 yards and five touchdowns as well as one interception.
The Blue Raiders head on the road for the next two weeks, first heading to Nashville to take on in-state rival Vanderbilt. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. on Saturday, Sept. 10.