First Look: Bulldogs Face Depleted Blue Raiders in Final Non-SEC Tilt

This week’s game: Middle Tennessee State (4-2) at No. 15 MSU (6-0), Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2

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After a huge SEC win against Tennessee, the Bulldogs get ready for their final non-conference tilt of the season. Before we get to that, let’s hit a couple of links: My story on QB Tyler Russell, and the normal MSU rewind.

Remember, I’ll have updates from Dan Mullen‘s 1 p.m. press conference. Now, let’s take a look at the Blue Raiders.

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Last meeting: MSU, 27-6 (Oct. 17, 2009, in Murfreesboro)

Series: MSU leads, 4-0.

MTSU on the web: goblueraiders.com

MTSU Twitter follows: @AdamSparks, @MTAthletics

MTSU coach: Rick Stockstill (39-42, seventh year)

Three MTSU players to watch: QB Logan Kilgore, WR Anthony Amos, LB Craig Allen

Premature review: In our Premature Preview of Middle Tennessee, I wrote about a team that was coming off its worst season under Stockstill, going 2-10 a year ago. That put some pressure on Stockstill, who’s had two winning seasons in Murfreesboro. His offense last season was solid, averaging just over 400 yards a game, but turnovers and poor defense did in the Blue Raiders.

This season, things are looking up – or at least they were (more on that in a moment). MTSU opened the season with a horrific loss to McNeese State, a I-AA team, but it’s bounced back nicely. It owns wins over Georgia Tech and FIU, scoring a last-minute TD in that latter game on Saturday for a 34-30 win. But it was a costly victory, as starting tailback Benny Cunningham suffered what’s likely a season-ending knee injury. Yeah, so things aren’t looking quite as good.

Cunningham is averaging 120 rushing yards per game, which ranks 13th in the country, and has 11 touchdowns. He ran for a career-high 230 against FIU, and now MTSU will have to turn to guys like junior LSU transfer Drayton Calhoun (199 yards, 2 TDs) and freshman Jordan Parker (213 yards, 0 TDs). It also puts more pressure on Kilgore, who’s put up solid numbers so far: 116 of 172 (67.4 percent) for 1,422 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. His pass efficiency rating of 150.67 ranks 25th in the country. Oh, and starting receiver Marcus Henry (nine catches, 182 yards) is also out with an ankle injury.

And what about that defense that was so bad a year ago? Yeah, still not so good, as MTSU is giving up 442 yards per game, including 266.7 through the air. It’s not great against the run, either, and gave up 238 yards to that tricky Georgia Tech triple-option attack. But, the Raiders gained 510 yards to offset that, led by Cunningham’s 217 yards and five touchdowns.

Chances are, the MTSU offense is going to have a lot of trouble offsetting its defensive woes with Cunningham out. Vegas has made MSU a 20.5-point favorite this week.

I am the online content coordinator for DJournal.com. Previously at the Journal, I covered Mississippi State athletics (2008-13), high schools (2004-08), and was on the copy desk (2002-04). I'm working on a recipe for bacon-flavored coffee, which would solve all the world's problems.

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  • 6571duff

    If we don’t start finding a way to get pressure on the opposing quarterback, we are gonna get scored on by everybody. The generic, base, passionless, no instinct defense we are running is not showing the talent we have. It looks like a scrimmage defense. No sacks, disruptions, makes the other teams offense look like All Americans. It’s hard to gripe about being undefeated but we haven’t beaten a team that has a winning record right now, and the schedule is getting harder.

  • MidTennDog

    Not sure if Cunningham being out for MTSU is a good or bad for State. For those of you who don’t know, Cunningham is an SEC caliber back. So, him not being in the lineup will put less pressure on the D. On the flipside, the Tennessee game showed that State was used to playing way too many offenses without big, fast physical backs. When they got one… or two or three from UT, they missed tackles, or hit them with their shoulder, thinking they would just go down like Kentucky’s 4th string back. Having a guy like Cunningham in there would get State better prepared for Bama’s backs.



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