This week’s game: Middle Tennessee State (4-2) at No. 15 MSU (6-0), Saturday, 6 p.m., ESPN2
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.
• Last meeting: MSU, 27-6 (Oct. 17, 2009, in Murfreesboro)
• Series: MSU leads, 4-0.
• MTSU on the web: goblueraiders.com
• 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.