Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sports Editor
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders lost more than a game against the University of Texas-San Antonio last Saturday, when quarterback Brent Stockstill went down with a broken collarbone. Just days later, the offense is functioning smoothly behind the play of backup John Urzua.
A redshirt freshman, Urzua, was tossed into the fire against the Roadrunners and did what he could to rally the team against a very tough defense. He pulled the team within 11 points at 28-17 on a touchdown pass to Richie James. The Blue Raider defense struggled to maintain the momentum, however, and UTSA’s defensive front covered Urzua up the rest of the way. He recognizes that it wasn’t his best effort, but believes the team’s mindset is in a good spot, considering everything they’ve been through in the past week.
“[Everybody’s] got to get better. Everybody’s got to do their job,” Urzua said. “Take it one play at a time, get better from last week and keep moving forward.”
Injuries are nothing new to this team, as they lost some key members of the receiving corps early in the season. They didn’t use it as an excuse though, as other players stepped in and made plays when they were called upon. While Stockstill is a huge loss to this team, James and fellow receiver Ty Lee have nothing but confidence in their new quarterback.
“He’s a smart player. He’s going to make the right plays,” James said. “He’s going to create plays, but most importantly he’s going to be smart with the ball.”
Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin also believes that Urzua is more than capable as a leader, especially when he has the weapons around him that he does.
“Everybody is better when you have good players surrounding you. Every quarterback in the history of football, if you’ve got good guys, all of a sudden you’re a lot better,” Franklin said. “We’re confident in him. The other guys are good, our O-line does a good job, so we’ll play well.”
Lee believes that Urzua is in a good position to have success because he doesn’t have to do this alone. While many fans believed that this team’s season might be over, the offense still has the pieces in James, Lee and running back I’Tavius Mathers to have success even without their star quarterback.
“If you’re surrounded by good players, all you’ve got to do is get them the ball and they’ll make something happen,” Lee said.
Having these playmakers around him has given Urzua the confidence to be at his best.
“It just makes the game easy,” Urzua said of the talent on offense. “When you’ve got players around me like I do, there really should be no excuse for doing any harm. Get the ball to the playmakers, you know I’ve got a lot of them around me, and let them do their thing.”
The team’s next challenge is against Marshall, a team that has gone through one of its worst seasons in recent memory. Just two years removed from being a top 25 team, they are now sitting at 2-7 and are tied for last in the C-USA East division. The last time Middle Tennessee played at Marshall, they fell in convincing fashion 49-24 in October 2014.
The Blue Raiders know this will be a tough game and they will have to be prepared physically and mentally to win.
“[It’s] just mental preparation, staying with the plays and taking it one play at a time,” Urzua said. “That should be it.”
The Blue Raiders take on the Thundering Herd tonight in Huntington with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m. The game can be viewed on WUXP-30 and can also be listened to on the radio at 102.5-FM or 94.9-FM.
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