Louisiana Tech at Middle Tennessee
- Start Time: 7:00 PM EST. Saturday, September 24.
- Location: Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tennessee
- TV: ASN
- Streaming: ASN
- Radio: MTSU: Here. Louisiana Tech: Here
- Records: MTSU: 2-1. Louisiana Tech: 1-2.
- Live Stats: Here.
- Line: MTSU -5.5. O/U: 72.
The Bulldogs are sitting at 1-2 on the season after falling to two power five conference programs in the opening three weeks of action. They are still working to find their identity after losing so many key players from last season’s squad.
The only thing anyone wants to talk about with the Bulldogs is the quarterback battle. Senior Ryan Higgins is the unquestioned starter according to head coach Skip Holtz, but there is a vocal minority that wants to see J’Mar Smith behind center. The redshirt freshman held his own versus a tough Arkansas defense and nearly led the Bulldogs to a huge upset win. Higgins has been good, but some feel that Smith is the better long-term option.
Junior Jarred Craft has been a welcome addition to the offense needing some production from the running game. He has rushed for just over 105 yards per game as a starter and has proven he is a capable replacement for Kenneth Dixon. 5-6 Boston Scott is an interesting backup that deserves a few carries per game.
In case you have been under a rock, meet senior Trent Taylor. The 5-8, 178 pound receiver has 217 catches, 2,798 yards, and 25 touchdowns in his career. He is the top option in the Louisiana Tech passing game with 26 catches for 422 yards and five touchdowns on the year. Junior Carlos Henderson has settled in as a solid companion to Taylor with the duo accounting for nearly 60% of all passing targets.
Graduate transfer linebackers Jordan Harris and Dalton Santos has been very good in early portions of the season, as has star defensive back Xavier Woods. The problem for the defense is that it had Texas Tech on the schedule. The Red Raiders make all defense look foolish and forced La. Tech into a shootout. Therefore, defensive numbers are a bit distorted.
That being said, the Bulldogs have a good chance to end up with one of the best defenses in Conference USA.
The Blue Raiders have all the weapons in the world on offense, but have looked error prone and poorly coached to start the season.
As with anything MTSU related, we should start by talking about the offense. It is putting up 40 points per game, 5.1 yards per carry, 370.7 passing yards per game, and 537.3 total yards per game.
Pulling the strings at quarterback is sophomore Brent Stockstill. Son of head coach Rick Stockstill, Brent is on pace to obliterate every passing record on the books at MTSU. He already has 1,006 yards and 11 touchdown passes and we are only three games in to the season.
The only negative to his play at this point is his propensity to throw interceptions at the absolute worst time. His near pick sixes versus Vanderbilt and Bowling Green turned the tide of games trending in MTSU’s direction. They saved things versus their MAC opponent, but never could straighten things up versus Vandy.
Every good quarterback needs a top target. Stockstill has one of the best in the nation in fellow sophomore Richie James. Like Stockstill, James is on pace to crush multiple school records. He is averaging 112 yards, nine catches, and one touchdown per game. At this rate, he could be looking at a statline like: 126 catches, 1,500+ yards, and 14 touchdowns.
Ty Lee has been able to step in as a solid #2 after injuries forced him into action. Expect to see the Blue Raiders try multiple combinations that include Patrick Smith, Rod Ducksworth, Dennis Andrews, and Desmond Anderson for extra production.
After a failure of a rushing game in 2015, I’Tavius Mathers has been nothing short of excellent in the opening portion of the season. The senior has 284 yards rushing, 186 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Along with backup Terelle West, the Blue Raiders actually have a running game that can produce.
Sadly, we have to talk about the defense. Before mentioning just how bad MTSU has been versus the run, I have to commend them on a somewhat impressive pass defense. They are ranked #5 in limiting explosive passing plays and #19 nationally in success rate allowed. In short, they play the pass well.
It has been crystal clear that the defense has not recovered from losing all three linebackers and safety Kevin Byard. Without those four players, they are giving up 209 yards per game on the ground. That is unacceptable.
One most interesting games of the day, the Blue Raiders look to avenge a 45-16 loss to the Bulldogs last season. Both teams are struggling to find their identities early in the season, so this should be a good measuring stick game for both teams. The loser isn’t officially eliminated from winning Conference USA, but the road to the title game becomes much more difficult.
Middle Tennessee 34, Louisiana Tech 31.