Time: 1:30 pm CT
Location: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Radio: 92.5/93.3 FM (San Antonio). Listen online here.
Betting Line: MTSU -20.5, O/U 64.5
Live Stats: Side Arm Sports
Series History: MTSU leads the series 1-0 after crushing UTSA 42-7 last season.
Thus begins UTSA’s toughest road stretch ever. After some surprising early season success, the Roadrunners are set to embark on a three game journey that will see them face potentially double digit underdog odds in each contest. The remnants of the Blue Raiders’ season are far from as daunting. Heavy favorites in this week’s game, MTSU will travel to Marshall and Charlotte before ending their season against FAU. A ten win regular season is very much in play for the Blue Raiders.
Quarterback Brent Stockstill and wide receiver Richie James deservedly receive the majority of the praises on offense but Ole Miss transfer I’tavius Mathers perfects the Blue Raiders’ trifecta under renowned offensive coordinator Tony Franklin. The senior is rushing for 6.8 yards per carry, providing an explosive and balancing presence in the MTSU offense.
When Mathers isn’t slipping past opponents’ front sevens, Stockstill is scorching them through the air. The sophomore and son of head coach Rick Stockstill has stepped his game up to a higher level under Franklin’s tutelage, passing for 2,667 yards with a 63% completion rate and a stellar 26-5 touchdown to interception ratio. Most impressive may be Stockstill’s ability to avoid the sack as he’s hit the turf for a loss just five times this season despite facing two SEC defenses.
Middle Tennessee’s defense has played well enough to get the Blue Raiders to bowl eligibility but they’re clearly the weaker unit when compared to the offense. MTSU allowed over 41 points on average over their last three games against Western Kentucky, Missouri, and Florida International. While the Blue Raiders’ defense is giving up a high number of points, their pass defense has been quite solid. Led by cornerbacks standing at 6’2”, 6’1”, and 6’0” (Jeremy Cutrer, Dontavious Heard, and Michael Minter), the Blue Raiders are ranked 47th in the nation for third down defense according to S&P+.
MTSU doesn’t create a lot of sacks but their linebackers are able to create havoc across the field. Junior D.J. Sanders is coming off C-USA Defensive Player of the Week honors after his pick six against FIU shook off a late scare from the Panthers. Sophomore Chris Melton (43.5 tackles, three tackles for loss, 1.5 sacks, two pass break ups, one forced fumble) has burst onto the scene to alleviate some concerns at the position caused by T.T. Barber’s graduation from MTSU last year.
The Roadrunners impressed last weekend after handling the rejuvenated North Texas Mean Green with relative ease. While UTSA is clearly showing progress under first year head coach Frank Wilson, they’ve really struggled to do two things this season: 1.) score points on the road and 2.) parlay strong performances into winning momentum.
UTSA has slowly carved out their offensive identity over the course of the season so we now have a general idea of what to expect from the Roadrunners each week. While quarterback Dalton Sturm has the talent to spread the offense out and move the ball through the air, the Roadrunners prefer to lean on the run game to create play action opportunities down the field for leading receiver Josh Stewart. The 6’4” target is averaging 23.2 yards per catch which ranks fourth in the nation.
Sparked by the emergence of junior college transfer Austin Pratt at center, the Roadrunners’ ground game has really taken shape over the past month. While senior Jarveon Williams (471 yards, three TDs, 4.2 YPC) is still receiving the majority of snaps, sophomore Jalen Rhodes has been phenomenal in relief, rushing for 599 yards and seven touchdowns on just 102 carries.
Clearly the turning point in this game will be UTSA’s ability to defend against the pass. Bolstered by exotic coverage schemes and blitz packages, the Roadrunners’ passing defense has emerged as one of the leading passing defenses in the Group of Five. UTSA’s defensive backs are ranked in the top 50 in havoc rate as safeties Nate Gaines and Michael Egwuagu have continued to build on their successful careers as Roadrunners.
Starting cornerbacks Austin Jupe and Teddrick McGhee have played tremendously this season, using their length to disrupt receivers both at the line of scrimmage and when the ball is in the air. Their ability to stagger Stockstill’s timing with his receivers will be the most pressing (pun intended) position battle to watch tomorrow.
I’m bullish on UTSA’s ability to slow down MTSU’s offense but there’s no way anyone could hold these guys under their season low of 24 points at Vanderbilt. Until UTSA proves they can move the ball on the road it’s hard to pick them to pull the upset away from home. UTSA 21 MTSU 34