Preview 2017: Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders
Previewing and looking ahead at the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders season – and what you need to know.
What You Need To Know About The Middle Tennessee Offense
Offensive coordinator Tony Franklin knows how to ramp up the tempo and the timing for the passing attack, and this year’s group should should be able to crank up the numbers again.
Only six starters are back, but the key parts are there to a high-powered passing game including QB Brent Stockstill and top receivers Richie James and Ty Lee.
The Blue Raiders finished eighth in the nation in total offense averaging 518 yards per game and was eighth in passing, averaging 326 yards per game. The line is the biggest concern with three starters gone, while star RB I’Tavius Mathers is done after a massive statistical season.
Biggest Key To The Middle Tennessee Offense
The line can’t let Stockstill get knocked around. The design of the offense is to get the ball out of the quarterback’s hands as quickly as possible, and that shouldn’t be a problem after giving up just 14 sacks and cranking up close to six yards per carry.
However, there’s plenty of shifting going on up front with just two starters back and hoping for Robert Behanan to be ready to rock at right tackle – Stockstill’s blind side. As long as the line is doing its job, the O should keep blowing up.
What You Need To Know About The Middle Tennessee Defense
The defense returns six starters after doing a decent job considering the firefights the team was in, allowing 450 yards per game and getting hit for 35 points or more in seven of the last eight games.
The linebacking corps is the strength, with the trio of Darius Harris, Chris Melton and D.J. Sanders among the best in the conference. Missouri transfer Walter Brady should do wonders for a line that loses all four starters, while the secondary that’ll be under pressure all season long returns three starters after doing a decent job.
Biggest Key To The Middle Tennessee Defense
The defensive interior has to stock up right away. Getting Brady for the outside should do wonders, but the tackles have to be excellent after losing the solid tackle duo of Shaquille Huff and Jimal McBride.
Justin Akins is only 248 points and Malik Manciel is just 259 – and those two are the likely starters inside. Considering their lack of size, there has to be a good rotation around them with a few bulky options to play around with.
Middle Tennessee Will Be Far Better If …
The defense stops giving up so many first downs. The Blue Raider defense was terrific on third downs, allowing teams to convert just 39% of their third down tries, but was miserable on fourth downs, with offenses converting 61% of their attempts on a whopping 41 tries.
Giving up first downs was a killer way too often, getting hit for big plays before third down and allowing offenses to hang on to the ball for almost 32 minutes a game. The high-powered Middle Tennessee offense came up with 323 first downs. Opponents cranked out 319, with 150 coming on both the rushing and receiving, with the other 19 on penalties.
Best Middle Tennessee Offensive Player
QB Brent Stockstill, Jr. – Flip a coin on whether the team’s best offensive player is Stockstill, or Richie James, who came up with 105 catches for 1,625 yards and 12 scores. Stockstill is the one who makes it all go, hitting 63% of his passes for 3,233 yards and 31 scores with seven picks despite missing a few games hurt.
The lefty isn’t all that big at 6-0 and 233 pounds, and he’s not going to run much, but he’s deadly accurate and he makes all the right decisions.
2. WR Richie James, Soph.
3. WR Ty Lee, Soph.
4. OG Chandler Brewer, Jr.
5. PK Canon Rooker, Sr.
Best Middle Tennessee Defensive Player
DE Walter Brady, Jr. – The former Missouri Tiger spent last season off thanks to transfer rules, and now it’ll be a shocker if he’s not one of the best pass rushers in the league.
At 6-3 and 268 pounds he’s got the size on the outside to go along with the terrific burst off the ball that helped him lead all freshmen in sacks in 2015. He ripped it up for the Tigers, coming up with seven sacks, 40 tackles, 12.5 tackles for loss and a pick in his huge first year. Now he’ll do it for the Blue Raiders.
2. LB Chris Melton, Jr.
3. LB D.J. Sanders, Jr.
4. S Jovante Moffatt, Jr.
5. LB Darius Harris, Jr.
Key Player To A Successful Season
OT Robert Behanan, Jr. – Considering Stockstill is left-handed, the right tackle job is the star of the line. Guard Chandler Brewer might be the best player up front, but the 6-3, 297-pound Behanan has to step up and become a force as a starter for a line that needs plenty of retooling. He has a little bit of starting experience, and now with the size and decent quickness, he’s got to keep the franchise QB upright.
The Middle Tennessee Season Will Be A Success If …
The Blue Raiders win the Conference USA title. There’s a ton of turnover, but there’s no Louisiana Tech this year from the West and the schedule works out a little better. There’s a ton of patching and work to do, but the offense will be unstoppable and the D shouldn’t be awful. At the very least, they’ve got to get to the Conference USA Championship.
Key Game To The Middle Tennessee Season
Nov. 18 at WKU. The Blue Raiders need to be in the hunt for the East going into the last two games against WKU and Old Dominion – those might make or break the conference title. Middle Tennessee had the Hilltoppers in trouble last year, but lost a brilliant 44-43 overtime game. This year’s WKU team might be worse, but this will probably be the conference player of the year.
2016 Middle Tennessee Fun Stats
– MT Scoring: 1st 162, 2nd 144, 3rd 66, 4th 131
– Average Yards Per Game: MT 517.7 – Opponents 449.5
– 4th Down Conversions: Opponents 25-of-41 – MT 4-of-14