Friday, September 22, 2023

Big plays and timely penalties cost MTSU against Missouri


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Featured photo by Erin Douglas

Story by Calvin White

Columbia, MO- Middle Tennessee (0-2) had Missouri (2-0) on the ropes late in the fourth quarter but allowing big plays on defense and timely penalties cost the Blue Raiders in a 23-19 road loss to the Tigers. 

The MTSU defense played better than it did last week at Alabama, allowing only 23 points and just 316 yards of total offense, but allowing big plays is something that continues to haunt the Blue Raider defense. 

In the second quarter, Missouri quarterback Brady Cook tossed a 19-yard completion on third-and-11 to wide receiver Luther Burden that was caught at the MTSU 42-yard line for a first down. The 16-play, 71-yard drive resulted in a touchdown for the Tigers. 

Burden stung MTSU’s defense again in the third quarter when he hauled in a 44-yard pass from Cook to advance Missouri to the MTSU 19-yard line. The drive ended with a five-yard Theo Wease touchdown catch. 

A busted coverage on the first play of the fourth quarter led to a 49-yard touchdown catch by Tiger running back Nathaniel Peat. If the MTSU defense eliminated the big plays from Missouri’s offense, it would increase the chances of the Blue Raider defense getting off the field and giving the offense more time to work. 

Penalties have hurt head coach Rick Stockstill’s squad through the first two games of the season as well. Middle Tennessee committed nine penalties for 84 yards against Alabama and committed six penalties for 41 yards against Missouri. 

On back-to-back plays in the fourth quarter, the MTSU offense was flagged for a holding penalty and a false start penalty respectively. The penalties led MTSU to face fourth-and-8 from the Missouri 13-yard line. Blue Raider quarterback Nicholas Vattiato threw an incomplete pass to turn the ball over on downs. 

On the defensive side, MTSU was flagged four times, with the biggest penalty coming with 2:55 remaining in the fourth quarter and MTSU trailing by four. After Missouri was flagged for a false start and offensive pass interference, the Tigers faced third-and-21. MTSU cornerback Teldrick Ross committed a pass interference penalty that gave Missouri an automatic first down and the Tigers ran the clock out to secure the win. 

Vattiato categorized penalties as drive-killers after the loss to Alabama. The two offensive penalties committed by the Blue Raiders occurred in the red zone and made it harder for the Blue Raiders to score. If those penalties are eliminated, Middle Tennessee possibly scores a touchdown and regains the lead. 

Sacrificing big plays and eliminating penalties are two things that the Blue Raiders will have to eliminate if they want to play cleaner games and give themselves better chances to win. The competition difference will lower next week when MTSU faces Murray State at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium in its home opener. That will be the first true test of what this Middle Tennessee team can do with conference play quickly approaching. 

Calvin White is the sports editor for MTSU Sidelines. If you have information for a story, you can contact him at For more news, visit Also, follow us on Facebook and Instagram @mtsusidelines and on X @MTSUSidelines. 

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