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Three Things We Learned From Conference USA — Week 2

Brad Rozner returns, Sonny Cumbie gets his first win and Middle Tennessee’s defense emerges.

Louisiana Tech v Missouri Photo by Ed Zurga/Getty Images

Week two in Conference USA saw 10 of 11 teams take the field on a Saturday that provided four league teams their first win of the year, Sonny Cumbie pick up his first collegiate head coaching victory and a pair of definitive bounce-back performances from teams who desperately needed them.

North Texas’ Austin Aune had his second multiple passing touchdown day of the season — helped by another strong rushing performance from Ayo Adeyi — as UNT steamrolled Texas Southern, 59-27.

Seemingly par for the course at this point, UTSA played in another game of the year candidate, rallying to beat Army in overtime, 41-38. Quarterback Frank Harris again showed that he’s one of the top quarterbacks in the nation, throwing for 359 yards and three touchdowns.

After a disappointing loss to Ohio, Florida Atlantic defeated Southeastern Louisiana 42-9. While the win over an FCS opponent may not seem overly impressive on its surface, FAU put together a decisive victory without several key contributors able to play or playing sparingly including defensive linemen Jaylen Joyner, Evan Anderson and wideouts Je’Quan Burton and Jahmal Edrine.

Let’s take a look at the Three Things We Learned from Week Two in Conference USA.

Marquis Crosby

For all of the hype surrounding Sonny Cumbie’s hire and the aerial attack that would come to Ruston as a result of his offensive scheme, Louisiana Tech’s 52-17 win over Stephen F. Austin came in large part behind a rushing feat that hasn’t been seen in several years.

Redshirt freshman running back Marquis Crosby rushed for 196 yards on 19 carries with two touchdowns in the first half alone — the most rushing yards by a Tech running back since Kenneth Dixon ran for 207 yards against Southern Miss in 2013.

The Hattiesburg, Mississippi native set the state single-season record with 3,678 rushing yards as a senior in 2020 and appeared primarily on special teams last year. While this level of rushing output won’t be expected every week, if Cumbie can get a steady rushing attack as he’s implementing his passing attack, the Bulldogs could be a team that play several teams tough throughout the season.

Brad Rozner

Rice redshirt senior wideout Brad Rozner has been in college football for a long time — seven seasons to be exact. After starting his career at Cisco College, Rozner joined the Owls in 2019 and immediately became one of the top targets in C-USA, hauling in 55 receptions for 770 yards and five touchdowns.

North Texas v Rice Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

However, the 6-5, 205-pounder has struggled with injuries throughout his career, missing all of 2020 after an injury during the COVID-year and played in just one game last year. In total, Rozner has missed three full seasons due to injury during his time in college. All of the above makes his 101-yard day on three catches with two touchdowns all the most notable. The receiving day is his best since an eight-catch, 130-yard and two touchdown day against Middle Tennessee in November of 2019.

Middle Tennessee Defense

After a defensive performance that saw Middle Tennessee allow over 500 yards of total offense and six touchdowns, Rick Stockstill’s Blue Raiders entered the week as a two-score underdog on the road at Colorado State. In classic Stockstill fashion, his team picked up a win when counted out by the masses, beating the Rams 34-19 — leading 34-0 at one point in the contest.

Whether or not the Blue Raiders will be able to sustain the play remains to be seen. What is notable is the way that MTSU was able to respond — behind an efficient rushing day from a running back and a pass-rush that registered nine sacks, tying the program record set in 2007 against Arkansas State.

Redshirt sophomore defensive end Quindarius Dunnigan picked up the first 2.5 sacks of his career, along with a team-high 3.5 tackles for loss. Defensive tackle Marley Cook and linebacker Christian Dixon added 2.0 sacks apiece.

As the Blue Raiders’ offense continues to find its identity under Mitch Stewart, if MTSU can replicate a 2021 campaign where they led the nation in takeaways, Stockstill’s club will again be in bowl contention come November and December.