Raiders play for strong finish at ULM Saturday

Kickoff set for 2:30 PM

November 11, 2011 · Athletic Communications
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - One of the most consistent traits of a Rick Stockstill-coached Middle Tennessee football team is that they have always closed the season strong, especially against their Sun Belt Conference rivals. That will be in their favor as the Blue Raiders (2-6) travel to Monroe, LA to face the ULM Warhawks (2-7) on Saturday afternoon at 2:30 PM. It will be the first of a four-game stretch to close out the regular season, all against Sun Belt foes.

This marks the first game all season that will not be available on television but fans wishing to view the game can log onto ulmwarhawks.com and pay $9.95 to view it on their computer.

The game will be broadcast live over the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters doing the play by play, and former Middle Tennessee assistant coach Preston O’Neal providing color analysis. Jonathan Shaffer is the producer. Murfreesboro flagship stations are WGNS 1450 AM, their FM affiliates 100.5 and 101.9, and WMOT-FM 89.5. The Nashville flagship station is WNSR AM 560.

Audio of the game may also be accessed online at GoBlueRaiders.com while live stats will be available at ulmwarhawks.com.

Middle Tennessee’s strong closing runs began in Stockstill’s first season (2006) when his team won four straight games before losing at South Carolina and then dropping a one-point decision to Troy to share the Sun Belt title with the Trojans, but still received a bid to the Motor City Bowl.

In 2007, Middle Tennessee won four of their last six games, and in 2008 the Blue Raiders ripped off three in a row in November to remain in contention for a bid to the New Orleans Bowl, but fell short.

2009 was the year that Middle Tennessee closed the year with a seven-game winning streak, including a win over Southern Miss in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl. Last fall, the Blue Raiders again closed with a flourish, winning three in a row, including two games on the road, to earn a bid to the GoDaddy.com Bowl. Overall, under Stockstill, Middle Tennessee is 13-6 against Sun Belt Conference teams in games played after Halloween.

In his weekly media conference on Tuesday, Stockstill noted some of the same indicators that he had seen in previous seasons.

“Defensively, we are getting better. We didn’t give up any points to Tennessee in the second half, and from grading the film the last three weeks, the defense is giving up fewer big plays each week,” noted Stockstill. “There is still room for improvement, but I am proud of the way our young guys are coming along.”

Offensively, Stockstill squashed any thought of a quarterback controversy.

“When I brought Jeff Murphy in last week against UT, we wanted to see if he could provide a spark for our offense. I also took offensive tackle Alex Stuart out of the game for couple of series, but nobody noticed that.

Logan Kilgore has done a lot of good things, he’s had a good year. I’m not one of those coaches who changes quarterbacks every time something goes wrong. Logan is our quarterback and, if he plays well, he’ll stay in there. If not, then we’ll give Jeff a chance, just like we would at any other position.”

Noting the problems that ULM’s 3-3-5 defense can cause the opponent’s offense, Stockstill is very candid in what his team must do.

“They are very good against the run because they will pull their safeties up into the box. The bottom line is that they create a lot of pressure, they use a lot of man coverage, and they come after you the whole game.”

“You have to have big plays on offense to win games. The last two weeks, our opponents have done a good job of not giving up the big plays. We’ve got to do a better job, when we get the opportunity, of taking advantage of those plays. We feel like we will get a bunch of those opportunities this week, as much man coverage as Monroe plays.

“Our skill guys, when they are in space, have to make plays when their number is called.”

ULM’s offense is built around sophomore quarterback Kolton Browning, who threw for 232 yards and a touchdown in last year’s game in Murfreesboro. His second pass of the game, however, was intercepted and returned 70 yards for a score by Blue Raider cornerback Rod Issac to give the home team a 7-0 lead less than four minutes into the game. Middle Tennessee never looked back, posting a 38-10 win, their sixth consecutive over ULM. Overall, Middle Tennessee leads the series 9-2. Next week, Middle Tennessee will be back in action, hosting the next two games in Floyd Stadium as the season winds down. League-leading Arkansas State visits next Saturday afternoon at 2:00 PM, while FIU comes to town the following Saturday (Nov. 26th).

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