Photo by Gregory French/MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (4-1) head into the bye week with their best start since 2001. Fresh off a 30-13 win over North Texas, the Blue Raiders have two weeks to prepare for Western Kentucky in the annual “100 Miles of Hate” matchup. They sit atop of the Conference USA Eastern division, leading WKU and Old Dominion by one game.
The season got off to an explosive start as the Blue Raiders opened with Alabama A&M. 48-point favorites heading into the game, MTSU Quarterback Brent Stockstill tied his career-high with five touchdown passes in the first half. Stockstill also set a school-record of 22 straight completions to open up the game. The Blue Raiders cruised to their first shutout victory since 2013, winning 55-0.
The Raiders then traveled to Nashville the following week for a showdown with in-state rival Vanderbilt. Behind solid all-around play, the Raiders would build a lead heading into the second quarter. Then, a storm came through, and play would be halted for an hour and 44 minutes. The Commodores would come back out of the delay strong, and they never looked back, going on to defeat the Blue Raiders 47-24. Stockstill, however, ended with a career-high 399 passing yard afternoon.
MT went to Bowling Green, Ohio, for their next non-conference challenge against the Bowling Green Falcons. The weather would again prove to be a factor as both teams struggled early to retain possession. Ultimately, MTSU running back I’Tavius Mathers would steal the show, rushing for 157 yards and three touchdowns. Mathers also added four catches for 103 yards, including a 78-yard catch-and-run touchdown en route to a 41-21 Blue Raider victory.
The conference schedule began with a home game against a tough Louisiana Tech team. The offense and defense struggled out of the gate, as LA Tech would build a 27-7 lead with 9:50 to go in the third quarter. Almost on cue, the Blue Raider offense marched down the field and scored within two minutes to start the comeback. Leading 38-34 with less than a minute left in the game, the defense would hold on their goal line as cornerback Mike Minter would knock away a fourth down pass to seal the 20-point comeback win for MT.
In their final game before the bye week, the Raiders met the Mean Green for an East-West division leader showdown in North Texas. Coach Tyrone Nix’s defensive unit showed up after allowing an early touchdown by holding the Mean Green to a net total of five rushing yards on the night. The offense would also do their part, as Mathers recorded his third straight game with at least 100 rushing yards. MTSU would cruise into their week off with a 30-13 win, pushing their record to 4-1.
Most Valuable Players
After falling 53 yards shy of breaking Jameis Winston’s record for most passing yards in a single season by a freshman quarterback in 2015, Brent Stockstill picked up this season right where he left off. So far, Stockstill has thrown for 1,657 yards and 15 touchdowns, completing 61.7 percent of his passes while managing the No. 8 total offense in the nation. Looking at the upcoming schedule, it’s hard to imagine that Stockstill won’t surpass the numbers he posted from last season’s record-smashing freshman campaign.
Some may have questioned the hype surrounding senior running back I’Tavius Mathers after the first two games of the season. After averaging just 63.5 yards per game, Mathers has picked up his production over the last three ballgames, averaging 151.7 yards in each of those contests. He’s also getting it done in the red zone, scoring nine total touchdowns the last three games. His performances led him to consecutive Conference USA offensive player of the week awards, as he leads the team in rushing yards (582) and rushing touchdowns (8).
Sophomore wide receiver Richie James is being depended on now more than ever with the injuries that have ravished the receiving corps. After a record-setting season of his own last year, James is having another great run, recording 41 catches for 553 yards with three touchdowns. He was one of the lone bright spots against Vanderbilt, hauling in a school-record 14 catches for 183 yards and a touchdown. With the emergence of Ty Lee, Patrick Smith and Dennis Andrews, James isn’t the only option, but he’s been the most reliable so far this season.
The Blue Raiders will have two weeks of practice before they take on the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers in the annual homecoming game. With WKU only being one game back in the conference standings, this could prove to be the biggest test of the year for the Blue Raider defense, who are currently giving up an average of 220.6 passing yards per game.
Kickoff is set for 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 15 and can also be viewed on ESPN3.