Story by Britton Barnette / Contributing Writer
The Blue Raiders (2-3-0) will have yet another tough test this week as they travel to Lynchburg, Virgina to face Hugh Freeze and the Liberty Flames (4-1-0), as well as their superstar quarterback Malik Willis. Saturday will mark Middle Tennessee’s first ever game at Williams Stadium, with the last meeting being a 27-7 victory for the Blue Raiders in Murfreesboro on September 18, 1982.
Coach Shafer’s defense will have to pull out all the stops to slow down Willis, who has accounted for 17 total touchdowns this season, making him and Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral as the only quarterbacks in the nation to be among the top 40 for rushing and passing touchdowns. The Blue Raiders allowed 493 total yards last week against Marshall, including 321 yards through the air during the constant rain.
Willis’s effectiveness comes from the ground (83.6 ypg) as well as through the air (221 ypg), leading the Flames in both categories, and creating almost all the offensive production. The Flames employ a by-committee rushing attack, with Joshua Mack, T.J. Green, and Shedro Lewis rounding out the carries and each averaging around 30 yards per game themselves.
Middle Tennessee’s offense has been proving to be lethal recently as well, scoring 30 or more points in each game since quarterback Bailey Hockman was replaced by Chase Cunningham. Even through a downpour last outing, Cunningham managed to throw two scores, including a soaring 32-yard dime to freshman wideout Jaylin Lane.
Cunningham enters the Liberty game with 10 touchdown passes and one interception, making him just one of 11 players nationally to have at least 10 TD passes and one or fewer INTs.
The Blue Raider’s seemed to have rediscovered the rushing attack last week, as Chaton Mobley had a breakout game, rushing for 15 carries for 132 yards and a TD for an 8.8-yard average.
The Flames defense, led by Junior linebacker Storey Jackson, has been stifling thus far, allowing only 266 yards of offense per game, with 151.4 passing yards allowed. As well as holding each opponent to under 20 points except for the 24 points allowed at Syracuse in their one loss. The defense has also allowed the Flames to out-gain their opponents in every category offensively.
Coach Stockstill will be looking to continue his program’s momentum gained after two consecutive games scoring 30 or more points, as well as the defense forcing six turnovers in their win against Marshall last week. After five games, MT has gained 14 turnovers to rank tied for third nationally with nine fumble recoveries and five interceptions.
MT has blocked a kick in three consecutive games for the first time since 2014. MT has never blocked a kick in four straight games during its FBS era (1999).