Blue Raiders open conference play at FAU
Kickoff set for 11:07 AM on CSS TVSeptember 20, 2013 · @MTAthletics
BOCA RATON - When Middle Tennessee travels to Florida Atlantic University on Saturday for their first game against a Conference USA team, the game could well be a defensive struggle. Both teams turned in strong defensive showings in wins last week, with the Blue Raiders holding off Memphis, 17-15, and the Owls shutting down South Florida, 28-10.
The game will be televised live on CSS (Channel 27 locally) with Matt Stewart calling the action and Chuck Oliver providing analysis. Hannah Chalker will be reporting from the sidelines. Kickoff is set for 11:07 AM CT.
Veteran Chip Walters (play-by-play) and former MT quarterback Kelly Holcomb (color analysis) will handle the broadcast on the Blue Raider Network. Live stats will also be available on GoBlueRaiders.com.
Coach Rick Stockstill knew the Memphis game would be a tough, 60-minute game, and he knows that playing FAU will be more of the same.
"They are a good team coming off of a good win over South Florida," pointed out Stockstill." "The last five or six games, going back to last year, they have been a good team, especially on defense.
"Their defense reminds me of North Carolina from a speed and athletic standpoint. They will pressure and come at you with a lot of man coverage, so we'll have to be able to handle that."
Stockstill pointed out that FAU uses two quarterbacks that can both pass and run with equal talent, and the Owl running backs and receivers have a lot of speed.
"Like I said last week with Memphis, this is going to be a 60-minute game, and we have to be ready to play our best."
As far as his own team is concerned, Stockstill feels they have found the identity that he was looking for in the first two games of the season.
"I have always said that you find the identity of your team in the third game. Last week, I told them at halftime that we are going to find out in the second half what kind of team we are going to be.
"They proved to me at North Carolina that we are going to be a dang good football team because of how they fought, competed and played in the second half."
"Against Memphis, I said we would form our identity, and to me our identity is a team that is physically and mentally tough that is going to play smart, protect the ball, and continue to fight and play hard for 60 minutes. And that is what the team did.
"We missed a field goal, and came right back and hit one. We struggled defensively at times, but we got a stop on their last drive to win the game.
"I believe in this team, I love their attitude. This team has an edge about it, and we've got to keep that."
Perhaps the most impressive facet of the game was the three sacks by the Blue Raider defense as Memphis drove for what could have been a game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
Two of those sacks went to cornerback Jared Singletary, who has been a standout on defense for the Blue Raiders the past two weeks. The red-shirt sophomore also picked up a fumble and returned it 25 yards for a score against North Carolina. Other defensive standouts have been linebackers T.T. Barber and Leighton Gasque. Barber is coming off a 12-tackle game against Memphis that included an interception, a sack, a forced fumble and a pass breakup.
Punter Josh Davis has also been productive for the Blue Raiders. Davis has averaged 44.1 yards per punt, good for a #21 national ranking. His career average of 42.0 is the best in school history and he has placed 42 career punts inside the opponent's 20-yard line.
Middle Tennessee holds the edge against Carl Pelini's FAU Owls, winning seven of the ten games played in the series, including the last five. FAU's last win came in 2007.
The highlight of the series, at least from the Blue Raider's point of view, was the "Hail Mary" game in 2008, when quarterback Joe Craddock connected with Malcolm Beyah in the end zone on a 32-yard pass on the last play of the game. The successful extra point gave MT a stunning 14-13 win in a game televised nationally on ESPN2.
Another "high-light reel" game came against the Owls, coached by Howard Schnellenburger, in his final season two years ago. Current Blue Raider starting quarterback Logan Kilgore, then only a sophomore, set a school record by completing his first 19 passes of the game. He went on to rack up 218 yards and three touchdowns in only three quarters as the Raiders rolled, 38-14.
Kilgore, now the senior leader of the team, will again be at the controls of the offense, and has been rejoined by his favorite receiver, redshirt senior Tavarres Jefferson, who missed all of last season with an injury.
Kilgore and Jefferson have hooked up on 14 completions for 179 yards in the last two games. With 102 career receptions, Jefferson needs only four more catches to move into the Top Ten in all-time receptions for MT.
Sophomore Jordan Parker has carried the rushing load, ranking 32nd nationally in yards per game at 106.7. Five of his last seven games have seen him eclipse the 100-yard mark. Last year against FAU, he had 117 yards on only 17 attempts.
The running game, which also features senior William Pratcher and junior Reggie Whatley, got a boost this week, as red-shirt sophomore Jeremiah Bryson saw his first action of the season at running back. Stockstill was glad to see Bryson back in the mix.
"You try to highlight what your running backs can do best, and Jeremiah brings another skill set to the game."
He will likely be needed against FAU.
Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.
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