Going into the Sept. 30 game against Florida Atlantic, the MTSU Blue Raiders were riding a nine-game win streak versus the Owls. On top of that, they had never lost a Conference USA opener since joining the league in 2012. All signs pointed to a Middle Tennessee victory, but there is a reason they play the games on turf and not on paper.
“We couldn’t stop the run, and we couldn’t run the ball. When you turn the ball over three times it’s a recipe for disaster,” MTSU coach Rick Stockstill said after the game.
All three of those turnovers came at the hands of quarterback John Urzua. The high turnover count certainly marred an otherwise strong performance by Brent Stockstill’s understudy, as he completed 60 percent of his attempts for a career-high 359 yards.
The running game the Blue Raiders had found against Bowling Green the week prior disappeared as quickly as it had appeared. Brad Anderson led the Blue Raiders’ rushing attack against FAU, but only gained 44 yards on 13 carries. Of course, the running game didn’t get much opportunity to find a rhythm as the Owls gained an early lead, outpacing the Blue Raiders 24–6 going into the half.
Middle Tennessee looked slightly better in the second half, but the damage had already been done. FAU closed the game out with a 38–20 victory.
The dominant run defense that the Blue Raiders had shown against Vanderbilt, Syracuse and Bowling Green fell to the wayside as the team allowed 252 yards on the ground. Devin Singletary contributed 133 of those FAU yards himself along with four rushing touchdowns.
One of the few bright spots for MTSU came from sophomore receiver Ty Lee, who posted a career high 136 receiving yards on eight catches with one touchdown.
The Blue Raiders will try to right the ship after dropping their Conference USA opener at FAU as they return to Floyd Stadium on Oct. 7 to play Florida International.
The FIU Panthers bring a 3–1 record to Floyd Stadium, and are riding a three-game win streak. They currently sit atop the C-USA East having defeated Rice and Charlotte in their last two outings.
FIU has found the bulk of its success on the ground by rotating three backs. Alex Gardner has operated as the primary option in the backfield as he has averaged 4.3 yards on 62 carries. Shawndarrius Phillips has effectively spelled Gardner, and has proven to be a threat in the receiving game. Napoleon Maxwell has seen few carries, but made them count. He is averaging an astounding 11 yards per carry on 14 attempts.
The MT defense will need to show drastic improvement against the run from last week’s game at FAU if they want to avoid another upset.
“Obviously we didn’t do a very good job last Saturday. So we’ve got to improve on that, we’ve got to get back to fundamentals,” Coach Stockstill said.
The Panthers also boast two of the top linebackers in the C-USA in Treyvon Williams and Anthony Wint. Williams and Wint each compiled more than 100 tackles last year, and both currently rank in the top 15 in tackles per game so far this season.
The Blue Raiders will have to find a way to run the ball despite FIU’s talented linebackers. When forced to be one-dimensional, as they have been for most of the early season, quarterback John Urzua has struggled to protect the ball.
“John’s just got to do a better job,” said Stockstill. “He’s got to understand that there’s nothing more important than the next down.”
Stockstill’s assessment of Urzua’s performance last week was not all negative, however.
“He did a lot of good things, but the turnovers just killed us, killed us. He’s got to eliminate those. Had he not turned the ball over as much as he did or has, we’d be saying he’s playing pretty good.”
The return of receiver Richie James and quarterback Brent Stockstill are unlikely for this week, as is the return of offensive lineman Chandler Brewer. Defensive end Walter Brady and cornerback Mike Minter are also questionable for Saturday.
Despite all these injuries, the Blue Raiders are still favored in this one. They will try to fend off another upset when this one kicks off at 2 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 7, at Floyd Stadium. Homecoming festivities will precede the football game.