Middle Tennessee-Western Michigan
Start Time: 12:00 PM EST, Thursday, December 24
Location: Thomas A. Robinson National Stadium, Nassau, Bahamas
Records: MTSU: 7-5. Western Michigan: 7-5. This is the first meeting between these two programs.
Live Stats: here.
Line: MTSU +3. Over/Under: 63.
When Middle Tennessee State has the ball:
The Blue Raiders run the ball just enough to set up the pass. They are among the worst in the FBS at turning regular running plays into explosive plays. The one advantage that the running game has is an ability to throw out multiple backs with different skill sets.
Shane Tucker is the team-leader in carries, but he is primarily expected to get the tough yards between the tackles. Jordan Parker has big play potential and goes up against one of the worst big-run-play defenses in the nation. I wouldn't be surprised to see sophomore Kamani Thomas and freshman Desmond Anderson (if healthy) get several chances to break a big running play.
Passing is where things get much more interesting as, MTSU is not only very efficient but also incredibly explosive. The Blue Raiders target two wide receivers and target them often; redshirt freshman Richie James and senior Ed'Marques Batties have been targeted on 257 passes this season (56.8% of pass attempts).
The duo is very efficient, catching nearly 69% of all passes thrown their way. The 5-9 James is not afraid to catch the ball anywhere, setting school records for catches and receiving yards in his redshirt freshman season. Batties, while not the catching machine that James is, does one thing very well: catch touchdown passes. He has the school record for touchdown catches in a season with 13.
Expect Western Michigan to challenge the two receivers with second team All-MAC cornerbacks Ronald Zamort and Darius Phillips.
We cannot forget the orchestrator of this high-octane passing game, redshirt freshman Brent Stockstill. The son of head coach Rick Stockstill, Brent has destroyed nearly every single-season school record in his first year of play. He beat out 2014 starter Austin Grammer for the position in route to Conference USA Freshman of the Year honors. His 3,678 yards passing is good for #11 nationally.
When Western Michigan has the ball:
As explosive as MTSU can be on offense, Western Michigan are even more so. A top ten ranking in S&P+, as well as IsoPPP means that the Broncos are very tough to stop. The most amazing aspect of the run game is the effectiveness, despite Jarvion Franklin's struggles. The freshman duo of Jamauri Bogan and LeVante Bellany have accounted for 1,305 yards and 14 touchdowns in place of Franklin.
Add in the sophomore's numbers and you have a trio that broke 2,000 yards on the year. The biggest worry in the WMU running game is the tendency to put the ball on the ground. The three have eight fumbles on the season, losing four.
The Blue Raiders will have their hands full and will give up yards to the run game, but are in the top three nationally in limiting explosive rushing plays. Western Michigan can be successful in the run game if they are willing to be very patient and take the short gains.
An area that the Broncos should dominate is in the passing game. Led by junior Zach Terrell and his 3,229 yards passing on the season, we should see WMU test the Blue Raiders secondary relentlessly.
There is not a duo of wide receivers in the nation that are targeted at a higher rate than Daniel Braverman and Corey Davis. The two have seen 264 passes thrown in their direction (71.7% of targets), yet both receivers are over 1,200 yards receiving and have a combined 23 of WMU's 28 touchdown catches on the season.
Davis, at 6-3, 205 pounds, is the more NFL ready receiver with a yards-per-catch average at 15.2. Braverman is like the Wes Welker of the passing game with a catch rate of 77.6% on his 104 receptions this season.
If the Blue Raiders expect to slow down the Western Michigan passing game, Kevin Byard and company must force Terrell to throw the ball to other receivers. Only two other wide receivers have double digit catches on the season.
This is a bowl game that can literally go in any direction. It has all the hallmarks of a 43-42 type of shootout that is won by the last team with the ball. The Blue Raiders will have their hands full with the two talented wide receivers, but a healthy Jarvion Franklin could be the difference for Western Michigan. Western Michigan 38, Middle Tennessee 35.