Blue Raiders look to regain edge in local rivalry


Alex Dale makes his first career interception for the Blue Raiders. The MTSU Blue Raiders suffered a loss to the Vanderbilt Commodores at Johnny "Red" Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, TN, on Saturday, October 3, 2015. (MTSU Sidelines/Greg French)

Photo by Gregory French/MTSU Sidelines

Middle Tennessee will take on Vanderbilt for the second consecutive year on Saturday. Altogether, the two teams have met 16 times with Vanderbilt dominating the series with a 13-3 record. However, recently the Blue Raiders have found success against the Commodores going 3-1 in their last four meetings. These in-state teams will continue to play each other in the future and a potential rivalry could be brewing in the process.

Victory favored Middle Tennessee for three consecutive meetings until last season. The Blue Raiders defeated the Commodores in 2001, 2002, and 2005. Two of those victories were determined by a combined total of five points.

In last year’s duel, however, the Blue Raiders held the lead throughout the entire game until the final minutes of the fourth quarter. The Blue Raider defense allowed big plays to swing the momentum for the Commodores, snatching the victory away in the final minutes.

Nevertheless, the team isn’t focused on the opponent as much as they are winning.

“We did lose to them last year, and we should have won, but at the end of the day it’s the next team up and we have to go out and win this game,” Wide Receiver Richie James said.

The Blue Raiders had enormous success last week against Alabama A&M as they strolled to a 55-0 victory. Vanderbilt’s defense will be a huge challenge for Middle Tennessee’s offense but the Blue Raiders will look to jump out to an early lead and speed the tempo up.

“We have to be ready to play and compete against a really good football team, especially defensively,” said Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “They are probably as good of a defense we will play this year.”

MTSU has had high intensity heading into this weekend’s matchup against the Commodores. With Vanderbilt being a South Eastern Conference opponent, this game is huge for the Blue Raiders and could propel them throughout the season.

“Focused, intense, working on reading our keys and going 100 miles an hour but playing under control,” Stephen Rhodes said of how practice has been the past week.

The Blue Raiders and Commodores will meet again in the 2017 and 2018 seasons. Since the turn of the new millennium, MTSU has come away with most of the victories, but the Commodores are looking to regain their dominance in the series.

It will be heated battle between two opponents looking to establish themselves early in the season.

“We are both in the same town, same area, so there’s a little edginess there,” Rhodes said.

Nevertheless, the Blue Raiders sole focus is to ensure a 2-0 start.

“You block out the noise,” Coach Stockstill said. “You don’t think about it; we don’t talk about it as coaches. We worry about ourselves trying to be the best player individually and then collectively as a team that we can be.”

The Blue Raiders will travel on the road to take on the Commodores at Dudley Field this Saturday at 3 p.m. Fans not able to attend the matchup can watch it on SEC Network Alternate.

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

To contact Sports Editor Connor Ulrey (@connorulrey), email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

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