Start Time: 4:00 P.M. ET, Saturday, Sept. 26
Location: Memorial Stadium, Champaign, Illinois
Records: MTSU 2-1, Illinois 2-1. Illinois leads the overall series 2-0.
Live Stats: here.
Betting Line: MTSU +6.5, Over/Under: 61.5.
MTSU Outlook: The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders head into this game at 2-1 after scoring 73 points in a win over Charlotte.
The Blue Raiders have been one of the most explosive offenses in the nation. Many are excited to see the offense go up against a solid Power Five program that will truly give everyone an idea of whether stats were ran up versus inferior competition, or if the offense is just that good. Jordan Parker and Shane Tucker make up a two headed rushing attack that has put up 350 yards on the ground in 2015. Parker is averaging 6.2 yards per carry. The decision to go with redshirt freshman Brent Stockstill at quarterback has been a smart idea with the signal caller throwing for 891 yards and nine touchdowns in three games. Stockstill has been able to find Richie James and Ed’Marques Batties for 39 completions on 54 pass attempts this season. The duo of receivers have been targeted on 52.4% of all pass attempts on the year.
MTSU has been solid on defense, even while facing Alabama in week two. The rush defense has been shutdown this season, allowing a 3.5 yards per carry average and only 114 yards per game. Teams have been a little more successful in the pass game with 228.3 yards per game, but the MTSU secondary has been able to pick off seven passes on the season. Five different players have intercepted passes for the Blue Raiders this fall. Linebackers T.T. Barber and Cavellis Luckett have led the way for the defense, combining for nearly 20% of the team’s overall tackles. It will be interesting to see how they match up versus the passing attack of Illinois.
Illinois Outlook: The Illini are coming off of a disappointing blowout loss to North Carolina in week three action.
While doing nothing outstanding on offense, Illinois has been able to take advantage of an average field position of the 36 yard line, good for tenth nationally. Only needing to go 64 yards on average to score a touchdown, the Illini rely upon a rushing attack that includes Josh Ferguson and Ke’Shawn Vaughn. The duo have rushed for 395 yards and four touchdowns on the season. Quarterback Wes Lunt has been solid behind center with just over 200 yards per game in the air. It would be nice to see his completion percentage improve from 60.8% to about 67-68% as the season progresses. Geromino Allison and Marchie Murdock are easily the top targets for Lunt with a combined 29 catches for 376 yards on the year. Allison’s 51.9% catch rate will need to improve if he continues to be the top targeted receiver.
I want to think that Illinois has a good defense, but then I see that most of their gaudy numbers come from blowout wins over Kent State and Western Carolina. In their first real test of the season versus North Carolina, the Illini gave up 48 points. Teams are only averaging 3.9 yards per carry and 4.9 yards per pass attempt on the season for a total of 285.7 offensive yards per game versus the Illini defense. Defensive back Clayton Fejedelem has made over 13% of the team’s tackles on the season, while Dawuane Smoot leads the team with four tackles for loss. The Blue Raiders offense may be one of the biggest tests for the Illinois defense all season long. It will be fun to see how they perform.
Prediction: This is one of the most intriguing games of week four with MTSU getting a chance to prove they are good. Putting up 70 versus Jackson State and Charlotte is one thing; going on the road to a Big Ten program and getting a win is completely different. The Blue Raiders have the offensive weapons to make this game close going into the fourth quarter. Illinois is another Power Five program that is looking to make a statement after a disappointing loss. Expect the Illini to have trouble putting MTSU away, but finally gain some separation in the second half. Illinois wins 37-24.