Football: Defense, special teams made up for offensive futility in win over Charlotte


Defensive tackle Jordan Ferguson chases down the quarterback on Oct. 20, 2018, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. (Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines)

Photo by Devin P. Grimes / MTSU Sidelines

“Let’s dance,” a gleeful head coach Rick Stockstill said following his team’s 21-13 victory over Charlotte on Saturday. “We won. There ain’t nothing to be mad about.”

The win is something to be excited about, as all conference wins are valuable wins, but offensive frivolousness usually keeps most teams from winning.

In one of the most bizarre football games this season, the Blue Raiders pulled out a win while only amassing 144 total yards of offense. In fact, it was the fewest amount of total yards MTSU has ever recorded in a win since the program joined the FBS in 1999.

To say that the Blue Raider offensive performance was ugly would be an understatement. It was easily the worst performance of the year on the offensive side of the football.

The 144 yards of total offense ranks as the least in a game all season. The second lowest total yards they had this season was doubled what they totaled against Charlotte (288 total yards against Georgia). As if the low yardage total was bad enough, the offense only recorded nine first downs while punting the ball away the same amount.

Quarterback Brent Stockstill wasn’t 100 percent healthy as he is still recovering from a high ankle sprain he suffered last week against FIU. He completed 14 of 20 passes and threw three touchdown passes, but his interception, fumble and plethora of three and outs were a microcosm of the offensive struggles.

“It wasn’t our best (game). It started with me … I have to practice to be good to help my team. I’m not good enough to just roll out there and play,” Stockstill said. “We really couldn’t get any worst downs, and we really couldn’t stay on the field. We’ll be okay though.”

Despite the offensive inefficiencies, the defense and special teams units came to save the day. While Charlotte still put up 359 total yards, they were on the field for most of the second half but were only able to put seven points on the board in that half. The only scores the 49ers were able to muster came on their first and last drives of the game.

“The defense played really well outside of that first drive and the last drive,” Rick Stockstill said. “We played really good.”

What the defense did best, however, was force turnovers to give the offense much needed positive field position. While up 7-6, safety Wesley Bush picked off Charlotte quarterback Evan Shirreffs and returned it to the Charlotte 15-yard line, which set up Stockstill’s second touchdown pass of the game to Ty Lee and gave the Blue Raiders a 14-6 advantage.

In the third quarter, Rakavian Poydras deflected a Shirreffs pass that eventually fell into the hands of cornerback O.J. Johnson who returned the pick deep inside Charlotte territory. This forced turnover led to Stockstill’s third touchdown pass of the game.

“There was some big plays (in the secondary) that helped us out a lot and really changed the momentum of the game. Both of those interceptions certainly did,” Bush said after the game.

While the defense had one of their best performances of the season, holding Charlotte to 13 points after they lit up Western Kentucky for 40 the previous week, the punting team found themselves as the unsung heroes of the game as they continuously pinned the 49ers deep into their own territory and rarely allowed them to start their drives with ideal field position.

The Blue Raiders punted nine times. Senior punter Matt Bonadies punted six times for 283 yards (three of which were pinned inside the Charlotte 20), and human swiss army knife Luke Shiflett punted three times for 108 yards, all of which were downed inside the 49ers 20-yard line.

Rick Stockstill was impressed with not only his punting team, but the special teams unit as a whole.

“Field position is always critical,” Rick Stockstill said. “I thought we played the field position really good. We punted good, and for the most part, when we had Charlotte backed up, we did a good job of not letting any of their punts getting over our head. I thought our kickoff coverage team was really much improved, and they did a really good job also. And the pressure we put on their field goal team caused them to miss two field goals.”

The defense and special teams are hitting their stride. The offense, however, took a giant step back in the win over Charlotte.

However, with Brent Stockstill getting another week of practice and more time for that left high ankle sprain to heal, the Blue Raiders might get the appropriate offensive remedy needed to rejuvenate their offense when they travel to take on Old Dominion next week. The Old Dominion defense has given up an average of 37.5 points per game to their opponents in conference play after four C-USA games.

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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