Photo by Darwin Moore / MTSU Sidelines
After a disappointing 38-20 loss at Florida Atlantic, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-3, 0-1) find themselves at a crucial junction in the season.
With quarterback Brent Stockstill and receiver Richie James both still sidelined with nagging injuries, they’ve relied on players like John Urzua, Ty Lee and Brad Anderson to step up their game and perform when called upon. They’ve produced mixed results thus far, as shown in a 24-13 win against Bowling Green and a 34-3 loss at Minnesota.
The biggest problem on offense has been the turnovers, as the Blue Raiders come into homecoming week with four fumbles lost and eight interceptions thrown through five games. Six of the interceptions have been thrown by Urzua, which is alarming for Blue Raider nation since Stocktill is expecting to miss a few more weeks due to his sternum injury.
“John’s just got to do a better job. He’s got to understand there is nothing more important than the next down,” Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “We’ve got to do a much better job of protecting the ball because that’s how you win, and that’s how you lose.”
The offense isn’t the only part of the team struggling however, as the defense hasn’t done them many favors. Against FAU, the Owls moved the ball down the field with ease on three of their first four drives for touchdowns. Even when the offense is struggling, it’s up to the defense to hold the opposing team in check — for Middle Tennessee, they failed to stop the run when it mattered most.
FAU’s Devin Singletary ran the ball 24 times for 133 yards and four touchdowns to power the Owls to the victory. The Blue Raiders have been very solid against the run thus far. For them to win moving forward, they have to get back to forcing teams to be one-dimensional.
“We’ve got to get back to fundamentals. (FAU) broke some tackles, and we missed some tackles,” Stockstill said. “We’ve got to do better at maintaining gap integrity. We’ve got to do a better job of tackling in space.”
With Florida International coming into town this week, the road doesn’t get any easier for the Blue Raiders. The Panthers are 3-1 on the season so far, including 2-0 so far in conference play. As one of the bigger surprises so far this season, Stockstill knows that it’ll take a complete effort from his team to win their first conference game of the season.
“They are doing a really good job of controlling the football and not beating themselves,” Stockstill said. “This is going to be a great challenge for us. We’ve got to put last week’s game behind us and move forward and get ready for this one.”
The Blue Raiders and Panthers go to battle Saturday at 2 p.m. at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium. The game will also be aired on ESPN3.