Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines
The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders (1-2) fell to the Georgia Bulldogs (3-0) in Athens on Saturday. The Blue Raiders came in as underdogs to the number three ranked team in the nation, and Saturday’s contest showed why. The Blue Raiders were outmatched by Georgia’s size, speed and physicality. In the end, the Bulldogs took care of business to keep their National Championship venture on track and defeated the Blue Raiders 49-7.
“We probably won’t play a defense that big and physical for the rest of the year,” said wide receiver Patrick Smith. “It gave us a great jump start.”
The Blue Raiders deferred to the second half, so the Bulldogs received the opening kick. It didn’t take long for the Bulldogs to impose their will upon the Blue Raiders. Bulldog running back Elijah Holyfield got started early and busted a long run down the left sideline for 66 yards that set Georgia up in the redzone. Georgia quarterback Jake Fromm then connected with Mecole Hardman on an out route inside the five-yard line to give the Bulldogs a 7-0 lead.
The Blue Raiders had a golden opportunity to capitalize on the following defensive possession after the offense went three and out. Middle Tennessee punted to Georgia and downed them within their own 10-yard line. The Blue Raider defense could have jump-started the team with a game-changing play. Defensive end Jahmal Jones sacked Fromm at the goal line which led to a fumble in the endzone. However, the Blue Raiders were unable to recover, which would’ve tied the game at seven and possibly swayed momentum in Middle Tennessee’s favor.
For the remainder of the game, the Blue Raider offense struggled to move the ball against one of the top defenses in all of college football. They struggled to run the ball, which limited the offense to one dimension: passing.
The Blue Raiders were forced to pass on a majority of their plays, which led to a Brent Stockstill interception on a critical fourth down.
Middle Tennessee’s defense was unable to contain big plays once again, and this led to their demise. The Bulldogs led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter before going on a scoring frenzy in the second. A Tyler Simmons 56-yard touchdown run opened up the second quarter for Georgia.
Later in the second, the Blue Raider special teams was unable to cover a punt, and Hardman found the endzone on a 70-yard return. The Bulldogs quick strikes were mainly due to missed tackles by the Blue Raiders.
“We can still improve on that,” linebacker Darius Harris said. “(We had) way too many missed tackles today. One missed tackle, and it can lead to a big gain and a touchdown.”
The Blue Raiders would finally hit pay dirt with four minutes left in the first half. Stockstill connected with Smith on an out route, and he was able to turn up the sideline after a missed tackle and score the Blue Raiders first and only touchdown.
However, even with only four minutes left in the half, the Bulldogs weren’t done scoring. Georgia would find the endzone two more times on a Fromm touchdown pass to Riley Ridley and backup quarterback Justin Fields’ 15-yard touchdown run.
At the halfway point, the Bulldogs had the Blue Raiders in a stranglehold, 42-7.
“It was tough sledding out there,” said head coach Rick Stockstill. “They swallowed us up. They were bigger than us, faster than us and we couldn’t create any separation. There (were) no openings. That’s why they’re ranked where they’re ranked.”
The second half was nothing more than a wash. After coming out of the break, the game was already solidified as a Bulldogs victory. Georgia and Middle Tennessee gave their backups reps in the second half, and the coaches had an opportunity to evaluate their depth on both sides of the ball.
However, that did not excuse injuries from occurring. The Blue Raiders, who have already been depleted by injuries, had other players get banged up against the Bulldogs late in the second half.
“It was tough for us,” Brent Stockstill said. “But I love our team right now.”
The Blue Raiders will now look toward their bye week and return to action on Sep. 29 to take on the Florida Atlantic Owls. The bye week comes at a perfect time for Middle Tennessee to rejuvenate and revitalize the team and for injured players to get healthy.
The Blue Raiders will need to regroup and heal up in time to begin Conference USA play after a long, three-game non-conference stretch. Middle Tennessee definitely welcomes the bye week early after facing tough opponents to start the season.
“It’ll definitely help a lot,” Harris said. “Some guys are already hurt and a lot of guys (got) hurt this game. It came at a good time, so everybody can recover and get ready for FAU.”
To contact Sports Editor David Chamberlain, email email@example.com.