Thursday, June 8, 2023

MTSU prepares for WKU ‘100 Miles of Hate’ rivalry


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Photo by Meagan White / Sidelines Archive

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will face the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers on Saturday in the biggest rivalry game of the season. The 100 Miles of Hate Rivalry dates back all the way to 1914 and takes its name due to the universities being just 100 miles apart from each other. The heated rivalry will hold major implications for both schools as they go throughout the remainder of the season.

The Blue Raiders have jumped out to their best start since 2001. They are currently tied with Old Dominion at 2-0 atop the East. The Blue Raider’s high-powered, explosive offense has propelled them to the best overall record in the conference at 4-1.

Quarterback Brent Stockstill has been unbreakable through the first five games. Stockstill has already thrown for 15 touchdowns, 1,657 yards and holds a 143.1 passer rating. This week, he will once again look to establish the pace and tempo of the offense as he will likely go right at the Hilltopper’s  pass defense, ranked tenth in the conference.

Despite the Blue Raiders offense being pass heavy, running back I’Tavius Mathers has helped diversify the offense this season and kept defenses guessing. Mathers arrived as a transfer from Ole Miss and has had enormous success thus far for the Blue Raiders. He has rushed for 582 yards, averaging 6.3 yards per carry, but has also recorded 267 receiving yards. Overall, Mathers has recorded 10 touchdowns on the season. However, he could have a difficult time against the Hilltoppers rush defense. WKU’s defense has only allowed 510 rushing yards this season, ranking them first in the conference.

As a whole, the Blue Raiders are still crippled at the wide receiver position. However, the new guys have had a ‘next man’ mentality all season and the position group has flourished under the leadership of Richie James. All season long, James has performed consistently at a high level and has been a safety valve for Stockstill. The 5-foot-9, 180 pound wideout can stretch the defense and is a threat to score at any time. Newcomers Ty Lee, Patrick Smith, and Dennis Andrews have filled in nicely for a depleted receiver unit and have proven to be viable options for Stockstill as well.

The Blue Raider defense has been resilient and stout so far this season. MT’s defense is currently ranked fourth in the conference. While the defense has shown they’re a force to be reckoned with, one glaring weakness that needs improvement is forcing turnovers. The Blue Raider defense has done an amazing job of containing offenses, but they need to create and force more turnovers to elevate their defense to the next level.

The Hilltoppers, on the other hand, have stumbled out of the gates this season and hold a 1-1 record in the conference, 3-3 overall. They won the conference last season and were ranked No. 24 in the final AP Poll of the 2015-16 season. However, the team lost star quarterback Brandon Doughty to the Miami Dolphins. To fill the void, WKU acquired Mike White, a transfer from the University of South Florida.

White is having an impressive season so far, throwing for 1,367 yards, nine touchdowns and completing 64 percent of his passes. Going forward, the redshirt junior quarterback has the capabilities of becoming another WKU great. White has many weapons to help him take the next step, starting with Taywan Taylor and Nicholas Norris.

Both wideouts are two of the best in the conference. Taylor has eclipsed 600 yards receiving but has only recorded two touchdowns. Norris, however, has found the endzone five times and tallied 452 yards.

On the ground, the Hilltoppers feature senior Anthony Wales. Wales has rushed for 341 yards but only on 57 attempts, giving him a six yard per carry average. It’s likely that Wales could have a difficult time against the a Blue Raider defense who gave up just five net rushing yards in their last game against North Texas. Nevertheless, if Wales could get into a rhythm, it could give the Hilltoppers momentum to open up their passing game.

The Hilltopper defense is second in the conference and will need to maintain the Blue Raiders dynamic offense if they want to win the game. Linebacker Joel Iyiegbuniwe is second in the conference in sacks with 3.5, and defensive lineman Chris Johnson is second in the conference with seven tackles for loss. WKU excels at stopping the run, but struggles defending the air attack which could cause problems for them against MTSU.

The Blue Raiders and Hilltoppers matchup is one of Conference USA’s biggest rivalry games, and the Hilltoppers need this one now more than ever to prevent themselves from falling below .500 in the conference and overall. If Middle Tennessee captures the victory this week, they would assert themselves as front-runners in the conference.

Since 2007, the Blue Raiders have had the edge in their meetings, holding a 5-3 record. The Hilltoppers seized victory in commanding fashion last season winning 58-28. The Blue Raiders will look to return the favor on Saturday night.

Both teams have electric offenses and stingy defenses. It will be a battle of wills, and which team can protect the ball and control possession. Whichever team can establish the run will likely come away with a massive conference victory and bragging rights for another year. The Blue Raiders will look to attack the Hilltoppers secondary, and the Hilltoppers could look to go right at MT’s front seven.

Kickoff for the 100 Miles of Hate Rivalry is set for 1:30 p.m. Saturday at Floyd Stadium with homecoming festivities taking place throughout the day.

For more sports stories, follow us at, on Facebook at MTSU Sidelines and on Twitter at @Sidelines_Sport.

To contact Sports Editor Tyler Lamb (@Tlamb35), email

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