Story and photo by Devin P. Grimes / Sports Reporter
It was a tough outing Satuday afternoon, but the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-1) walked away with a victory in the Carrier Dome. After a struggling offensive performance last week vs. Vanderbilt, the Blue Raiders defeated the Syracuse Orangemen by a score of 30-23.
There was not much offense at the beginning of this matchup. The focus was defense, as neither team was able to put together consistent offense.
Middle Tennessee scratched the scoreboard first on a safety from Syracuse but after the first quarter, the score was only 3-2 with the Orangemen taking the lead on a field goal.
In the second quarter, the Blue Raiders re-captured the lead when Ty Lee found the endzone on a 14-yard run. Lee finished the game with 50 total rushing yards on 18 carries.
Lee was also a factor in the passing game, catching seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Syracuse struck back quickly the following drive with a 1-yard run from running back Dontae Strickland.
After a frustrating first half, the Middle Tennessee defense kept the Blue Raiders in the game and they only trailed 13-9 heading into the locker room.
Brent Stockstill struggled for the majority of the game, but found his rhythm in the second half. With the team trailing 16-9, he connected with star receiver Richie James on a 28-yard strike to tie the game at 16.
This was a big play for the Raiders, as it marked the first time on the season that they converted a third down play. They were previously 0-for-20 in that department.
After the defense recorded another stop on Syracuse, the Blue Raiders got the ball back and drove down the field towards the end of the third quarter. Lee found the endzone once more when Stockstill completed a 48-yard bomb to the sophomore on the first play of the fourth quarter for a 23-16 MTSU lead.
After Syracuse tied it on their next possession, each team traded short drives before Middle Tennessee scored to take the lead. With his team facing a crucial third down, Stockstill completed a pass to senior running back Shane Tucker for the go-ahead score.
Middle Tennessee’s defense held up over the next two Syracuse drives and clinched the game for the Blue Raiders by a final score of 30-23. This was highlighted by freshman safety Reed Blankenship’s first career interception.
For the game, Stockstill finished 22-of-36 with 269 yards and three touchdowns. James ended with eight catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, his second of the season.
Middle Tennessee defense continues momentum
After giving up 28 points through the first half and a drive against Vanderbilt, the Middle Tennessee defense has since locked down their opponents and that continued today.
The team earned six sacks, and brought consistent pressure to the offensive backfield of the Orangemen. This pressure forced opposing quarterback Eric Dungey into bad throws and he ended the day passing 26-of-42 for 180 yards and an interception.
One thing that should be improved going forward is the discipline of the defense. With the game still in the balance in the third, Walter Brady was called for a targeting penalty and subsequently ejected from the game.
A few plays later, Charvarius Ward committed a pass interference penalty to give the Orangemen a first down. For the defense to be successful, little mistakes like that must be cut out.
For the day, the Blue Raiders committed nine penalties for 113 yards.
Offense gets everyone involved
One thing that the Blue Raiders struggled with last week was forcing the ball to Richie James. In this game, Ty Lee was the one that got the offense opened up and rolling.
With the game tied at 16 to open the fourth, Lee beat his man and got free for a 48-yard touchdown to take a brief lead.
Tucker also got involved, as he scored the game-winning touchdown of a leaping dive into the end zone with just under seven minutes remaining in the game.
For the Blue Raider offense to be a threat, everyone must continue to contribute whenever their number is called.
The Blue Raiders will return to Murfreesboro and prepare to take on the Minnesota Golden Gophers next Saturday, September 16 at 2:30 p.m.
Follow MTSU Sports Reporter Devin P. Grimes on Twitter at @_DPG1
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.