Location: Murfreesboro, Tennessee (Floyd Stadium)
Kick Off: Saturday, September 29, 7 pm ET
Stream: Stadium on Facebook
Betting Odds: FAU -3, Over/Under 62
Records: FAU (2-2), Middle Tennessee (1-2)
Series Record: MTSU leads 11-4
Last Meeting: FAU defeated MTSU 38-20
After a couple up-and-down performances during non-conference play, FAU returns to the scene of the crime where they dominated Conference USA en-route to their first conference title since 2007.
Just like last season, FAU starts conference play against Middle Tennessee. The Owls enter the game coming off of a 20-point loss to UCF. While the loss hurts, the play was somewhat encouraging. Devin Singletary was fantastic, rushing for 131 yards and three touchdowns. The special teams unit had their best game of the season, as the Owls converted a fake punt into a first down, Vladimir Rivas made all of his extra points and hit a 32-yarder, and Kerrith Whyte Jr. averaged 22 yards per kickoff return to consistently give FAU good field position throughout the game. Of course, the negatives were turnovers by Chris Robison and a defense that failed to stop the Knights.
Although the offense has yet to really hit their stride against an FBS team, FAU ranks 34th on offense in S&P+. Chris Robison has certainly made mistakes (5 interceptions) but he’s flashed tremendous upside too (5 touchdowns). I expect the freshman to have a much better go of it during conference play as Jovon Durante and Willie Wright should be a matchup problem for a majority of the defenses in C-USA, including MTSU.
Defensively, the Owls rank a disappointing 97th in S&P+. Rashad Smith has the only two interceptions on the team, as the secondary ranks 105th in Havoc Rate (INTs, TFLs, FFs, DBUs). Against a pass-happy Middle Tennessee team, those numbers could get significantly worse if the Owls continue to play man-to-man coverage with little safety help.
Middle Tennessee Outlook
Being that the Blue Raiders have played two SEC teams and were outclassed in each one, it’s tough to get a gauge of how good they are.
The usual suspects are still there, as Rick Stockstill is still the head coach, Tony Franklin is still the OC and Brent Stockstill is somehow still the QB.
The offense doesn’t appear to be as dynamic as year’s past though as RB Brad Anderson leads the Blue Raiders in receptions (17) and receiving yards (223). RB Tavares Thomas has missed the past few games but may return. Thomas has great size as the former LB is a load to tackle. But for a wide open offense like this, your receivers should be dynamic and that hasn’t been the case so far for MTSU.
WR Ty Lee is an all-conference talent, but this season he only has 10 catches for 50 yards. Patrick Smith has been Stockstill’s favorite WR target this season as Smith has 4 touchdowns with 15 catches for 161 yards.
Scott Shafer is in his 2nd year as the DC and MTSU is no longer the expected pushover they once were on this side of the ball. Middle Tennessee’s defense is ranked 2nd in C-USA with 12 sacks. As mentioned before though, the Blue Raiders have had a rough go of it due to playing Georgia and Vanderbilt and rank 104th on defense in S&P+. Khalil Brooks remains the face of the defense, as he enters with 14.5 tackles and 2 TFLs.
MTSU has had two weeks to prepare for their conference opener while FAU enters conference play after playing UCF. It wouldn’t surprise me if the Blue Raiders jumped out to an early lead in the opening quarter.
While MTSU’s ability to get to the QB is concerning, FAU hasn’t exactly struggled to protect Robison as the offensive line has allowed only four sacks this year. Keeping Robison upright will be vital though, as the freshman has struggled on the road this season. Robison is completing 53 percent of his passes away from FAU Stadium.
Considering how poorly FAU’s secondary has looked, Brent Stockstill should have a field day. I know their WRs aren’t as talented like they were in when Stockstill arrived there, but MTSU’s receivers are still good enough to exploit FAU’s weakness.
I expect a lot of points but FAU is still the more talented team though. After struggling on the big stage in non-conference play, the Owls have the opportunity to assert their dominance in conference play and I think they’ll do just thanks to a huge day by Motor.
FAU 41 Middle Tennessee 31