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Can Middle Tennessee make it 10 straight over FAU?

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FAU and Middle Tennessee get together for the conference opener as the Owls hope to snap a losing streak.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Syracuse Mark Konezny-USA TODAY Sports

Start Time: 7pm Eastern

Location: Boca Raton, Florida, FAU Stadium

TV/Streaming: Stadium

Records: Middle Tennessee 2-2, FAU 1-3

Series History: Middle Tennessee leads the series 11-3; has won the last nine meetings including last year’s 77-56 victory.

Betting line: No line, O/U 59.5


Middle Tennessee Outlook

This is an interesting time of year for the Blue Raiders. Coming off a game where the Blue Raiders won fairly comfortably without it’s best offensive weapons, they have to be pretty confident heading into conference play.

Coach Rick Stockstill has made it very clear that the goal this season is a conference championship, saying that the season starts now for the Blue Raiders. So, starting that campaign with a win on the road in Boca Raton absolutely key for the Blue Raiders regardless of who suits up for Middle.

The status of quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Richie James are still unknown as they will both be game time decisions. But, I can imagine Richie James will see the field a little, even if his ankle isn’t entirely healed. The Florida native always seems to put on a good show when playing down in the Sunshine State, so expect him to find a way onto the field.

Despite injuries at every offensive position last week, the Blue Raiders were able to to find their rushing game and have two 100 yard rushers in the form of Jocquez Bruce and Brad Anderson. In order to succeed, the Blue Raiders need rushing production close to that in order to take pressure off of the passing game, regardless of which quarterback starts.

My only concern when it comes to this Blue Raider offense is turnovers, especially when they are missing their stars. Along with the injury bug, this team has been plagued with turnovers as well. Middle Tennessee’s current turnover margin is negative seven, with five interceptions thrown and four fumbles lost. That trend can not continue for the Blue Raiders or it will most definitely come back to bite them in conference play.

As for the Blue Raider defense, they have already shown improvement over last year’s squad under the coaching of coordinator Scott Shafer. It will be interesting to see how the defensive front which has had success against the run all season, handles the multiple running backs Florida Atlantic brings to the table. If they can handle the run threat at the line and avoid putting the secondary in man coverage, the Middle Tennessee defense should fare just fine Saturday night.

FAU Outlook

Well FAU fans we have entered the second phase of the season. In the offseason I thought by this point we would be showing signs of a football program ready to turn the corner. Sadly, that is not the case.

The Owls will begin conference play against the team that is perhaps the main reason why Lane Kiffin calls Boca home as the Blue Raiders put up 77 on the Owls with Richie James at quarterback in the 2016 season finale. Owners of a nine-game winning streak that have featured gut wrenching, embarrassing and miraculous loses for FAU, MTSU comes to Boca on a quest to start conference play with a win as they aim to capture Rick Stockstill’s first outright conference title.

With so many unknowns as far as who will be playing and starting, my biggest keys for an FAU victory will be to run the ball and stop the run. DeAndre McNeal has proved to be more than capable as a receiver but unfortunately Daniel Parr and Jason Driskel have been nowhere consistent enough where we can maximize McNeal’s talents.

The rushing offense has still been excellent nonetheless. Devin Singletary, Greg Howell and Kerrith Whyte are each capable of taking it to the house and if Stockstill and James both suit up, hopefully they get a ton of carries to keep MTSU’s offense off the field.

Middle Tennessee is still a pass-first offense with Tony Franklin at offensive coordinator but if John Urzua or Brent Stockstill plays hurt, they will run the ball. Their rushing offense is still not close to what it was last year with I’Tavius Mathers, but they did have their first 100-yard rushers for the season in Brad Anderson and receiver-turned running back Jocquez Bruce, last week against Bowling Green. FAU’s run defense is still not very good, but MTSU hasn’t been great at running the ball this year. Making them one-dimensional (especially if John Urzua is starting) will be huge if FAU is to snap the streak.

Prediction

AJ Grande: After finding a run game last week, expect the Blue Raiders to continue that approach but also don’t be surprised to see Richie James play big too, despite coming off injury. Defense continues its slow improvement and wins the line of scrimmage. Middle Tennessee 31 FAU 21

Cyrus Smith: Lost in all the speculation in if Brent Stockstill and Richie James will play is the play of MTSU’s defense. Scott Schafer has really turned that unit around. I’m afraid even if Stockstill doesn’t play FAU won’t be able to score enough points to defeat John Urzua at quarterback. Middle Tennessee 35 FAU 24.