Football: Blowout loss can serve as learning experience for Blue Raiders


The Blue Raider defensive front lines up before the snap to stop the Georgia offense on Sep. 15, 2018, in Athens, Georgia (David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines)

Photo by David Chamberlain / MTSU Sidelines

Before the opening kickoff, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders won the coin toss … and that is all they would win on Saturday. The defending SEC champs walloped MTSU in Sanford Stadium 49-7 in a game that was essentially over before it started.

However, that was to be expected. Georgia is the number three team in all of college football, the defending SEC champs and was one overtime period away from winning the National Championship last season.

To say Georgia is a pretty good football team would be a massive understatement. Even when the game reached garbage time and Georgia sent out their reserves, those reserves were still five-star recruits and elite prospects (i.e. Justin Fields).

The reason schools like MTSU play bigger schools like Georgia early in the season is not because they can beat them, but because they get valuable reps against the best competition in the country, as well as gain exposure by playing on national television. Most importantly, this was an opportunity for coach Rick Stockstill and his staff to learn the strengths and weaknesses of the team and use the trip to Athens as a learning experience.

So what exactly did the Blue Raiders learn in this game? For one, the tackling issue that Stockstill highlighted after the UT-Martin game last week appears to still be an issue. Georgia was able to run all over MTSU. Once the Bulldog backs were able to break through the line of scrimmage, they were able to shake off tackle after tackle from the Blue Raiders’ linebackers and secondary unit.

“I think we missed some tackles again,” Rick Stockstill said. “Looking at it live, I would probably say we tackled better than last week, but we still need to improve.”

It’s hard to gauge how well the Blue Raider defense performed given the potency of Georgia’s offense this season. After all, in Georgia’s first two games they scored 45 and 41 points respectively (the 41 coming on the road against ranked SEC foe South Carolina). The Blue Raiders giving up 49 points and 261 rushing yards (217 in the first half) leaves plenty of room for improvement.

“We gave up some big plays and missed some tackles … too many missed tackles,” linebacker Darius Harris said after the game. “Going into conference, we just got to practice to do everything right, soundly and perfectly.”

On the offensive side of the ball, MTSU was able to move the ball on the ground somewhat efficiently as they averaged just over four yards per carry throughout the game, despite losing Chaton Mobley earlier in the game.

Quarterback Brent Stockstill didn’t have his greatest statistical performance (19/29 with 138 yards, a touchdown and an interception), but the connection with wide receiver Patrick Smith still looks like their best asset in the passing game. Smith caught nine balls for 77 yards and a 41-yard touchdown for the Blue Raiders’ only score of the game.

For Rick Stockstill, however, there is still more to learn about his team due to injury issues. MTSU is already bitten by the injury bug with three of their running backs battling injuries, one of their leading receivers, C.J. Windham, still isn’t 100 percent and safety Jovante Moffatt has yet to play a snap this season.

“We haven’t fielded a team yet this year, even the Vanderbilt game, that we thought we were going to field … We (have got to) find a way to get healthy so we can get ready for conference play starting up,” Stockstill said.

Overall, this team isn’t thrilled with losing by 42 points, as would any competitive sports team at any level. To be blunt, they got their teeth kicked in and were completely manhandled by a team that would beat any given C-USA team 100 times out of 100.

Nevertheless, perspective is key. This game is not a season-defining game for this team nor does the overall outcome really matter in the grand scheme. This was an opportunity to get better against a top-three team in the country and for the program to make a quick buck.

What is relevant is that they have two weeks to prepare for their next opponent. It just so happens that the opponent is Lane Kiffin’s reigning C-USA champion Florida Atlantic Owls.

This bye week will not only give the team time to rest up and heal up, but it will give them two weeks to learn from this loss and prepare for a lethal FAU offense that torched the entire conference last season.

To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, 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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