Football: Middle Tennessee dominated in Minneapolis, fall to Minnesota 34-3

Photo by Tyler Lamb / Sidelines Archives

The injury-stricken offense of the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-2) struggled to get anything going Saturday afternoon when they fell to the Minnesota Golden Gophers (3-0) by a score of 34-3 at TCF Bank Field.

Hours before kickoff, the Blue Raiders announced that starting quarterback Brent Stockstill would not be suiting up due to a shoulder injury he suffered in the win against Syracuse last week.

After just one quarter of play, it was a defensive battle as the Golden Gophers would be the only team to get on the board with a 24-yard field goal by Emmit Carpenter.

John Urzua completed five passes in the quarter to five different receivers including Richie James, Ty Lee, Isaiah Upton, Patrick Smith and C.J. Windham.

Middle Tennessee’s defense played a very stout first quarter, forcing the Gophers to go three-and-out on three consecutive drives to end the quarter.

On the Raiders first drive of the second quarter, Cannon Rooker knotted things up with a 45-yard field goal to make it a 3-3 ballgame. That kick pushed Rooker’s streak to five field goal’s made in a row. He has also made 14 of his last 15 attempts.

Minnesota ott the ball back and picked up another three points from Carpenter, as the junior kicker drilled a 47-yard kick to put the Gophers back on top by a score of 6-3.

After a Blue Raider three-and-out, Minnesota drove down the field again, this time getting the ball into the end zone. Senior running back Kobe McCrary ran it in from 14 yards out to make it a 13-3 ball game.

The Minnesota defense found the end zone next when Golden Gopher cornerback Jacob Huff picked off a John Urzua pass and took it 67 yards to the house to make it 20-3 right before the teams headed into halftime.

The Blue Raiders rode the arm of John Urzua offensively in the first half, as the redshirt sophomore quarterback threw for 103 yards on 13 completions.

Linebacker Darius Harris led the MTSU defense with six tackles and one sack that he got in the second quarter that dropped Minnesota quarterback Connor Rhoda 11 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Minnesota linebacker Thomas Barber came up with the Gophers second interception of the day on MTSU’s second drive of the third quarter after C.J. Windham bobbled a pass off his knee and into the hands of Barber.

The Gophers then nickel and dimed the Raiders down the field on the way to another touchdown run by Kobe McCrary to give Minnesota a 27-3 advantage that they would take into the fourth quarter. The drive went 56 yards in 16 plays and took 8:06 off the clock.

McCrary would find the end zone for the third time in the afternoon as he would punch it in from five yards out at the beginning of the fourth quarter for the games final score to give the Gophers a 34-3 lead.

That marked the end of the day for a lot of Blue Raider starters, including Urzua who finished the day 19-34 for 135 yards with two interceptions and carried the ball twice for seven yards. Kyle Banks took the field as the new signal-caller for the Blue Raiders, along with a few others on each side of the ball.

Third down inefficiency continued to be a struggle for the Blue Raiders this season, as they went 3-14 on third down today and have gone 6-38 on third down this season. The Blue Raiders have found themselves in a lot of third down situations due to the inability to run the ball, as MT finished with just 36 yards on the ground.

Minnesota’s ground game ultimately was the deciding factor in the victory, as the Golden Gophers ran for a total of 221 yards and rushed for three touchdowns courtesy of Kobe McCrary. Rodney Smith and McCrary both had 107 yard performances.

Stockstill day-to-day with shoulder injury, James battles with leg injury

The Blue Raiders had a tough time offensively without star quarterback Brent Stockstill, who was a game-time decision coming into the day. Head coach Rick Stockstill ultimately decided not to chance things with his son, and the redshirt junior quarterback has officially been listed at day-to-day at this point. His status for the Bowling Green game remains up in the air.

Richie James appeared to lose some spring in his step after a leg injury that he suffered in the first quarter after a 22-yard carry from the “Wild Richie” formation that features James as the quarterback. James appeared sparsely throughout the rest of the game and finish with just one reception for negative two yards and was the team’s leading rusher, picking up 25 yards on two carries.

Trio of Raider receivers step up in James’ absence

MTSU had a trio of receivers that stepped up to help out John Urzua in the absence of Richie James in Patrick Smith, Shane Tucker and Ty Lee.

Smith was the team’s leading reciever, hauling in six passes for 46 yards, his longest recption being an 18-yard catch. Smith did most of his damage over the middle of the field as a “quick-hitter” option for Urzua.

Tucker caught three passes for a total of 31 yards, including a long of 25 yards, while also logging time as a running back today.

Lee, the team’s starting running back as of now, provided Urzua with a good option to check down to out of the backfield by catching four passes for 28 yards.

What’s next?

The Blue Raiders will return home next weekend to take on the Bowling Green State University Falcons. The Raiders defeated the Falcons by a score of 41-21 last season in a washout of a night in Bowling Green, Ohio.

Follow MTSU sports reporter Anthony Fiorella on Twitter at @A_Fiorella74 for more coverage.

To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email sports@mtsusidelines.com.

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

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