Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
With their first win of the season in the rearview mirror, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-1) are ready to turn their attention to their third consecutive Power 5 opponent in the Minnesota Golden Gophers (2-0).
When the Blue Raiders lost their opening game of the year to the Vanderbilt Commodores, many fans were concerned that the team would start the season at 0-3, a mark that would be tough to come back from at the start of Conference USA play. Not only that, but the team also had a tough matchup with the Syracuse Orangemen, Defensive Coordinator Scott Shafer’s old team.
As the game got underway, both defenses settled in quickly. The Orangemen forced a punt, while the Blue Raiders shut down the Syracuse offense inside their own 10-yard line thanks to a sack from senior D.J. Sanders. By the time the first quarter came to a close, Syracuse held a slim 3-2 lead.
The offenses opened up a little in the second frame, with the Blue Raiders taking a quick 9-3 lead on a Ty Lee touchdown run. Those were the last points they would score in the half however, as the Orangemen strolled into the locker room with a 13-9 halftime lead.
After another Syracuse field goal, the Blue Raider offense was faced with a 16-9 deficit. On a crucial third down in Syracuse territory, quarterback Brent Stockstill converted MT’s first third down of the season on a touchdown pass to star receiver Richie James to tie the game. Then, on the first play of the fourth quarter, Stockstill hit Lee for a 48-yard touchdown to take a 23-16 lead.
Following a Syracuse score, Stockstill led the Blue Raiders on the game-winning drive, completing a pass to senior running back Shane Tucker for a lead they would not relinquish in a 30-23 victory.
One thing that stood out in this game was the team’s toughness. Head Coach Rick Stockstill believed this was a major component of the team’s comeback.
“I told my team that the key to the game was going to be playing with relentless effort and phenomenal toughness,” Stockstill said. “That’s what I thought won the game, our toughness and our effort.”
No one displayed that more than his quarterback. After a hit, it was clear that his shoulder was bothering him, but he played through the pain and delivered a phenomenal second-half effort.
“It’s part of the game and part of the position, but after a win, everything is a little sweeter,” Brent Stockstill said at the Monday press conference. “I’m just a little sore, but I’ll be alright.”
The team’s struggle on third downs were well-documented before the second half on Saturday. They opened the season by failing to convert their first 20 chances on third down. Moving forward in the season, the Blue Raiders know they must improve if they want to achieve their goals.
“It’s just execution … We just have to execute our plays and run them to the best of our ability,” Brent Stockstill said. “We just haven’t been great, that’s all it comes down to is the fundamentals and execution and doing what coach tells you to do.”
As far as how the defense will prepare for Minnesota, they already know that this team is going to run the ball a lot. The key for them is paying attention and not falling asleep on the big plays.
“They’re going to run, run, run and then try to sneak a long pass in there somehow,” safety Jovante Moffatt said. “It’s going to be about keeping your eyes (open), staying consistent and just not getting carried away with the action of the game.”
The Blue Raiders will battle the Golden Gophers in Minneapolis, Minnesota, on Saturday, September 16, at 2:30 p.m.
To contact Sports Editor Rusty Ellis, email firstname.lastname@example.org.