Raiders, Herd battle on national television Thursday night

Annual Blackout game on Fox Sports 1

October 23, 2013 · @MTAthletics

MURFREESBORO - Following a much needed break, Middle Tennessee is re-energized for the annual Blackout game Thursday night against C-USA Eastern Division leader Marshall.

Kickoff is set for 6:35 PM, with the game being televised nation-wide on Fox Sports 1. Handling the TV play-by-play will be Justin Kutcher, and he will be joined by analysts Petros Papadakis and Joel Klatt. Kristina Pink will be reporting from the sidelines.

Chip Walters will be handling play-by-play for the Blue Raider network, as he has for many years, with former Blue Raider and NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb providing color insights to the game. The Blue Raider Network can be heard locally on WGNS Radio (89.5 FM, 97.5 FM, 100.5 FM and 102.9 FM).

For the Blue, it will be the annual Blackout game, the team will be dressed in black uniforms, and the fans are asked to wear black to the game instead of the traditional Blue Raider blue.

This will be third time that MT and Marshall have met on the football field, with both previous games being played in Huntington, WV. They were part of the NCAA's Division I-AA playoffs, and the Thundering Herd prevailed both times, in 1992 and 1994.

Marshall and East Carolina were the top pre-season picks to win the Eastern Division of Conference USA, and will provide the Blue Raiders with a challenge very similar to the one that ECU brought to Floyd Stadium three weeks ago.

The Herd has perhaps the top quarterback in the league in Kareem Cato, who was C-USA's Player of the Year last fall.

Blue Raider Coach Rick Stockstill is very, very impressed with Cato.

"He is a very dynamic player. He can make every throw and he's got a great arm. He is just a phenomenal player.

"Marshall has recruited some very talented wide receivers for him to throw to. They are a very explosive offense."

The Herd opened the season with wins over Miami (Ohio) 52-14 and Gardner Webb 55-0, before losing on the road at Ohio University (34-31) and at Virginia Tech (29-21 in 3 OT's).

Stockstill pointed out that Marshall had improved their defense greatly since last season, with an infusion of junior college players and transfers that didn't play last year.

"Their defense has a completely different look than it did a year ago."

Perhaps the most telling game of the 2013 season as far as comparison's are concerned are the two games against C-USA foe Florida Atlantic. MT defeated the Owls 42-35 in overtime on September 21st. Three weeks later, also in Boca Raton, Marshall survived 24-23.

The extra five days to prepare for an upcoming opponent could not have come at a better time for a Blue Raider team needing to get a few guys back from the injured list. Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix was especially pleased with the progress made during the extra time off.

"We have some guys that are rapidly healing from injuries. They have refreshed themselves and regained the energy required to play at this level. We will have more guys to work into the rotation, especially along the line. I think we will see a much better defensive unit out there on Thursday night."

Much the same can be said for the offensive line which was also able to heal some wounds and get some much-needed rest.

Kevin Byard, the sophomore safety that Marshall Coach Doc Holliday says "plays like a linebacker" will be one of the players to watch on defense. He posted a career-high 15 tackles against East Carolina, then came back with 17 more against North Texas.

Sophomore linebacker T.T. Barber ranks 10th nationally in tackles per game (10.9) and 9th in solo stops (6.4 per game).

The Blue Raider defense has been among the national leaders in creating turnovers, ranking second in the country with 20 take-aways, equally split between interceptions and fumble recoveries. They also rank second in C-USA with 18 sacks.

While the Blue Raiders will be looking to halt a three-game losing skid, Stockstill is quick to point out that his team is still very much in the championship race despite two league losses.

"We are two games back with five games to go, and we will need some help, but Marshall and East Carolina still have t play each other, and there is a lot out there from a bowl standpoint. There is still a lot of meat on the bone, and still a lot to play for the rest of the way."

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