Story by Matthew Giffin / Contributing Writer
Middle Tennessee State University (5-5, 3-3 Conference USA) made a strong showing against Florida International University (1-9, 0-6 C-USA) in a 50-10 blowout at home Saturday afternoon in the annual “Salute to Veterans and Armed Forces” game. The Blue Raiders are bouncing back late in the season after last week’s defeat at Western Kentucky and losing Chase Cunningham to a season-ending injury two weeks ago.
True freshman Nick Vattiato showed improvement in his second-ever start as the Raiders’ QB, throwing for 147 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Mike DiLiello subbed in a few times for Vattiato in the second and fourth quarters, mostly to run the ball.
“I’m proud of Nick,” Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill said about Vattiato after the game. “Last week was the first time he’s played college football in a real situation… I love his moxy, I thought he got more confident with each possession as the game went along.” However, Stockstill said he believes there’s room for Vattiato to improve in his decision-making on the field.
MTSU had their best running game yet against the Panthers, especially from Martell Pettaway who led his team with 95 yards rushing and strode into the paint for six points after blowing by the Panthers’ defense, untouched. True freshman Jaylin Lane only needed one carry to find his first rushing TD of the season, bobbing and weaving like a video game through defenders for 29 yards.
Middle Tennessee didn’t have one or two major players on offense, but a whole group of guys who shared the ball throughout the game. Pettaway said at the postgame press conference, “The defense, we keep them on their toes. They don’t know who we’re gonna get the ball to. We can get it to anybody.”
The Blue Raider defense continued to dominate as well, climbing to 29 takeaways on the season and remaining an FBS leader in forced turnovers. Redshirt freshman Quincy Riley helped out the offense with a 45-yard pick six to add to Middle Tennessee’s scoring streak in the second quarter, and redshirt freshman Marley Cook took down FIU quarterback Max Bortenschlager for his first career safety. Raiders star safety Reed Blankenship made his ninth career interception with a fully extended, diving snag in the third quarter. The Raiders had four total takeaways, nine tackles for loss and five sacks.
Next week, the Raiders will attempt to keep their undefeated record at home alive against the Old Dominion Monarchs (4-6, 3-3 C-USA) for another in-conference square-off. Kickoff will be at 2:30 p.m., and the game will be available for viewing on ESPN+.