Raiders, Owls battle tonight in Sunshine State

CSS to carry game live at 7:07 PM

October 22, 2011 · Athletic Communications

BOCA RATON, Fla. - The similarities between the football teams of Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic tell the tale of what has so far been a frustrating season for both teams. Unexpectedly so, both MT and FAU are winless in Sun Belt Conference play.

The good news is that one of the teams will rise from the bottom and head toward the top when they meet Saturday at 7 pm CDT in a game televised live on the Sun Belt Network. Calling the game for SBN will be Joe Davis with Cole Cubelic as color analyst and Erin Cofiell reporting from the sidelines. The game will be shown locally on CSS, and on the internet at ESPN3.com.

The game will also be carried live over the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters (pxp) and Kelly Holcomb (color) manning the microphones. In addition, web audio is available on GoBlueRaiders.com, with live stats on fausports.com.

Coach Rick Stockstill believes it will be his team that prevails Saturday night in Boca Raton, despite a week of changes in both the coaching staff as well as in player personnel.

Stockstill has insisted all week that the resignation of Offensive Coordinator Willie Simmons, and the loss of another running back, has not been a distraction to the team.

“We shuffled some coaching duties around, and were able to practice all week with the new setup. Buster Faulker will be calling the plays tonight, and everybody is comfortable with that. The team is focused and ready to play.”

Faulker was the offensive coordinator at Murray State last year when the Racers set numerous records on offense, including one game that produced the only 500-yard passer, 200-yard rusher, and 200-yard receiver in the same game in FCS history. He has been the Blue Raiders’ QB coach and passing game coordinator since he arrived at MT in January.

Middle Tennessee’s passing attack has been potent all season, with sophomore Logan Kilgore throwing for 1,412 yards and 12 touchdowns in the first five games. He ranks 18th nationally with a 282.4 yds/game average. Seniors Malcolm Beyah and Sancho McDonald have both caught four TD passes this season. Anthony Amos and Tavarres Jefferson have also been favorite targets for Kilgore.

FAU, which has produced high powered passing attacks in their brief history, has struggled in that area this year, and has also had injury problems. Starting QB Graham Wilbert missed the WKU game, and his status for tonight has not been made public. David Kooi played in Wilbert’s absence last week.

Running back is a different story. Middle Tennessee will be without the services of both Benny Cunningham and D. D. Kyles, the team’s top rushers. Cunningham was also among the team’s leading receivers, and played on special teams.

Sophomore William Pratcher (41 carries for 247 yards) has carried the load in Cunningham’s absence and will start at FAU. Behind him will be Kyle Griswould, who has been moved from receiver to running back. FAU will have the services of one of their all-time leading rushers in Alfred Morris, who has 11 career 100-yard games, but none against the Blue Raiders.

For the Blue Raiders, a veteran offensive line has been a big part of the increased production this year. Led by senior veterans Mike Williams, Brandon McLeroy and Colin Boss, junior Alex Stuart and sophomore Josh Walker, they are five of the big reasons that the Blue Raiders lead the Sun Belt in total offense and rushing offense, and are second in passing offense and scoring.

Howard Schnellenberger’s Owls are last in the league in scoring, with 11.3 points per game. Part of that could be because FAU played five consecutive road games to open the season while their brand new stadium was being built. Among those five road foes were Florida, Michigan State and Auburn, where the Owl scored only 17 total points. They are averaging 17 points a game against Sun Belt teams, despite being shut out by Western Kentucky last week.

Middle Tennessee (1-4) is nine points away from being 4-1, have suffered 3-point losses at Purdue, at Troy and at home to WKU in two overtimes.

Defensive miscues and some untimely turnovers have hurt the Blue Raiders in three games they could have won.

“We are really young on defense, particularly in the front seven,” noted Stockstill. “The effort is there, the talent is there, but we are still a work in progress. We feel, and I think the players feel, that they are getting better every week.

“We spent our off-week working on fundamentals and trying to correct some mistakes.”

Gorby Loreus, a 5-11, 232-pound senior from Tampa, has been moved from defensive end to linebacker and will start in the middle. Senior Darin Davis and junior Roderic Blunt will flank Loreus.

Up front, Middle Tennessee will start senior SaCoby Carter, junior Omar McClendon, sophomore Jimmy Staten and freshman Jiajuan Fennell.

Seniors Derrick Crumpton, Arness Ikner and Eric Russell, along with sophomore Kenneth Gilstrap, will get the nod in the secondary.

Both teams boast strong kicking games. FAU’s Mickey Groody is third in the league in punting with a 42.2 average, one spot ahead of MT’s Nathaniel Toulson, who is averaging 41.5. Toulson, however, has had seven of his 21 punts downed inside the opponents 20 yard line.

Middle Tennessee holds a 5-3 edge in the series with FAU, but is 5-1 against the Owls since they joined the Sun Belt.

“All of our games with FAU have been close and physical games,” said Stockstill. “We have to come out Saturday night with a great attitude, and play hard, and cut down on our mistakes.”

For those who wish to listen to the game on the radio, BRN flagship stations in Murfreesboro are WGNS 1450 AM and their FM sister stations,100.9 and 100.5, as well as WMOT FM 89.5. The Nashville flagship station is WNSR 560 AM

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