Saturday, January 28, 2023

Blue Raiders Seek Bowl Eligibility

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Story by Elisha Nelson / Contributing Writer

The Blue Raiders are a step away from their first bowl appearance since 2018, and on Saturday they could make that happen with a win over Old Dominion in its final home game. After the Monarch’s newfound success with QB Hayden Wolff with wins over Florida International (47-24) and an impressive victory over Florida Atlantic (30-16), a contentious matchup between the two teams should be expected.

Old Dominion’s defense might have their hands full with a surging rushing attack by Middle Tennessee State’s stable of running backs. In a dominant showing against a struggling Florida International defense , the Blue Raider’s ground game amassed 261 yards of offense.

Running back Martell Pettaway’s breakout game last week could mean good things for the Blue Raider’s rushing attack. The discovery of their ground game in that performance surpassed starting running back Chaton Mobley’s season high of 231 yards on the ground, which for Middle Tennessee head coach Rick Stockstill could be a recipe for success the remainder of the season.

Backup turned starter QB Hayden Wolff looks to extend his 3-1 record as the leader of the Monarch’s passing attack. With Old Dominion being 0-4 all-time in matchups against the Blue Raiders, Wolff could break the streak with an impressive performance over a stingy defense that leads the FBS in takeaways.

Wolff’s favorite target over his stretch of success, 6’8 tight end Zach Kuntz, is likely to be a favorite target against a defense that averages 2.8 takeaways. Monarch’s Head Coach Ricky Rahne could look to alleviate pressure off of Wolff with a consistent rushing attack.

Old Dominion’s ground game has been a staple for the offense, averaging 180 yards a game. Lead back Blake Watson has had an impressive sophomore campaign thus far, with five straight 100-yard rushing games as of late. Avoiding turnovers could be huge for the bowl-hopeful Monarchs and Watson could make Wolff’s life a lot easier on Saturday with another huge performance.

While coming off their most dominant performance yet and a defense that is playing above all expectations, there are questions heading into Saturday’s game if Middle Tennessee can continue to have success offensively. Suffering a huge blow in their matchup against Southern Miss with leading passer Chase Cunningham suffering a season-ending injury, freshman QB Nick Vattiato will look to make his third start coming off an impressive game.

The Blue Raider’s plus-11 turnover margin has allowed the offense to not put too much pressure on their surging defense, and Vattiato should look to continue the impressive trend against a team that is minus-11 in turnover differential. Old Dominion and QB Hayden Wolff will have to be at their best to outplay an explosive defense and newly found rushing attack that the Blue Raiders could continue to improve on in their efforts to become bowl-eligible this Saturday.

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