Raiders, Tigers renew in-state rivalry

MT seeks first win of 2011

September 30, 2011 · Athletic Communications
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - In an in-state rivalry that has only recently been renewed after more than a half century of dormancy, Middle Tennessee will host Memphis Saturday night on Horace Jones Field. Kickoff is set for 6:02 PM, and will conclude the annual Homecoming activities for Tennessee’s largest undergraduate university.

The game will be part of ESPN Game Plan, and will also be on ESPN3.com with the Blue Raider Network broadcasting team of Chip Walters (play-by-play) and Kelly Holcomb (color analyst) describing the action. Web Audio and Live Statistics are available on GoBlueRaiders.com.

For Middle Tennessee (0-3), it will be a chance to get the 2011 season back on track, and make a run at a conference championship and a bowl bid. For Memphis, it will be an opportunity to break a 12-game losing streak to FBS teams. Ironically, the last FBS win for Memphis was 24-17 over Middle Tennessee September 17th of last year.

“I was embarrassed at the way we played at Memphis last year, and we are going to play better than we did last year,” said Blue Raider head coach Rick Stockstill. “We are going to play better than we did against Purdue, or Georgia Tech or Troy. We are getting better each game, and now it’s time to play at an even higher level, and correct some of the mistakes we have been making.”

Both teams have several young players with a lot of talent and potential, but lacking in experience. It has been a learning year for both teams so far.

Stockstill is pleased with the play of his young defense, except for one facet of the game … giving up the explosive play.

“We have to get better at not giving up the explosive play. That’s what you can’t live with. For the most part, we made Georgia Tech work for what they got, but they got two 1-play drives, and that’s what we have to work on.

“Troy had a 75-yard touchdown pass and a 62-yard fumble return, and that is what’s frustrating.”

Offensively, the Blue Raider offense, under the guidance of sophomore Logan Kilgore, has put up some impressive numbers. Kilgore has hit 72 of 122 passes for 862 yards and seven TDs. He has been intercepted three times.

Junior Benny Cunningham has carried most of the rushing load with 48 attempts for 262 yards (5.5 avg.) and two touchdowns, and has also caught six passes for 104 yards and another score. In an impressive side note, Cunningham has lost yardage on just one of his 48 rushing attempts.

Senior Sancho McDonald, who has caught a touchdown pass in every game so far, heads the receivers with 14 catches for 188 yards and three touchdowns. Senior speedster Malcolm Beyah has 13 receptions for 172 yards and two scores. In all, 14 different Blue Raider receivers have caught passes.

On defense, linebacker Darin Davis is the only senior among the front seven, and of the four senior defensive backs, only one started last year. The Blue Raiders are back with their aggressive, attacking defense that was generally missing last year. So far, it has resulted in seven sacks and 22 tackles for loss in three games.

The kicking game, long a strength for Middle Tennessee teams, is good once again. Nathaniel Toulson has punted 13 times for a 42.2 yard average, with four of 13 punts downed inside the 20 yard line. All-Sun Belt Conference placekicker Alan Gendreau has struggled so far in the young season, but will undoubtedly return to his All-Conference form very soon. Eric Russell remains one of the Sun Belt Conference leaders in both punt returns and kickoff returns. He has also intercepted a pass this season, at Purdue.

Stockstill reflected on the frustration of losing two of their three games by three points that came basically on the last play of the games at Purdue and at Troy.

“I want so badly for this team to experience that success and reach their goals. They practice hard, they play hard, they compete hard, so you want them to see the rewards.

“I give our players credit, after the Purdue game, they bounced back and played hard against Georgia Tech. Then we go to Troy and play a great game, other than a couple of plays on offense and a couple of plays on defense, which could have changed the complexion of that game.

“We have great leadership on our team, both from the seniors and the underclassmen, and we can still attain our ultimate goals. They are still out there. I know that it’s coach-talk, but it’s a one-game season. We have always taken a season one game at a time.

“These guys have always responded, and I have no doubt that they will respond Saturday night in a positive manner.”

The Blue Raider Network will broadcast the MT-Memphis game on Murfreesboro flagship stations WMOT-FM 89.5 and WGNS AM 1450, and also on WGNS’s sister FM stations, 100.5 and 101.9. The Nashville flagship station is WNSR AM-560.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.