The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders will be in Provo on Friday night to take on the BYU Cougars. The Blue Raiders enter Friday’s contest with a 3-1 record after beating fellow Conference USA member Florida Atlantic 42-35 in overtime last Saturday. That victory places the Blue Raiders at the top of the Conference USA standings for the time being.
The only loss for Middle Tennessee this year came on the road to North Carolina by a score of 40-20 in the second week of the season. Since then they have won two consecutive games including last week’s conference opener.
The Blue Raiders, from Murfreesboro are coached by Rick Stockstill. Stockstill is in his eighth season at the helm of Middle Tennessee after spending 24 years as an assistant coach at five different schools. Speaking about the Cougars during their Tuesday September 24th press conference, Stockstill said “This is a big week with BYU. It’s a great opportunity for us. I told our guys this is the best team we’ve played so far this year. They’re a very physical, sound football team. I have a lot of respect for the way they play the game. They play hard in all three phases, so this is going to be a great challenge for us.”
Buster Faulkner’s Blue Raider offense is averaging 31 points a game and has scored more than 40 on two occasions so far this year. The offense is led by senior quarterback Logan Kilgore, who has completed 68 of 112 passes for 729 yards, four touchdowns and five interceptions. This is how Kilgore sees this week’s opponent BYU, “Actually, the way that they play has an interesting look as they change things up so much. Their pass defense is aimed at confusing the quarterback. They run around so much and show so many different looks, dropping guys here and bringing guys here. As far as run defense, they have some really good players up front and I think they play just as hard as we do. I think most weeks, we go into a game and we just play harder than people. I would say this week they are a lot like us. They are always gang tackling and hustling around. It is going to be fun to play somebody like that.”
Kilgore’s favorite targets through the air are Kyle Griswould and Tavarres Jefferson.
Griswould is a 5’10” 200 pound senior, who has caught 90 passes for 1048 yards and six touchdowns during his time in Murfreesboro. In four games this year, Griswould has caught 14 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
Jefferson is the Blue Raiders leading receiver coming into Provo. The 5’9” 207 pound senior has 22 receptions for 279 yards. For his time at Middle Tennessee, Jefferson has caught 107 passes for 1052 yards and four touchdowns.
The Blue Raiders have plenty of other weapons in the passing game, but only one has more than 100 yards receiving during this campaign. Devin Clarke has 102 yards on just five receptions.
The offensive line returns four starters from a team that was second in the nation a year ago in fewest sacks allowed. They are led by Darius Johnson and Josh Walker who combined to allow just one sack in 2012.
The Blue Raiders also have a deep and talented rushing attack led by sophomore Jordan Parker. Parker has rushed for 1286 yards and seven touchdowns at Middle Tennessee, including 435 yards and four touchdowns on 5.1 yards per carry so far this season. He is joined in the backfield by junior Reggie Whatley. Although Whatley has only carried the ball 30 times this year he has already rushed for 243 yards and three touchdowns. After a little bit of a slow start, Whatley did most of his damage a week ago carrying the ball ten times for 154 yards and three scores.
The defensive side of the football hasn’t been as successful for the Blue Raiders this season. They have given up more than 430 yards a game, including 281 in the air and more than 28 points. Although they give up plenty of yards in the passing game, Middle Tennessee has already intercepted seven passes forced seven fumbles and registered 13 sacks.
Their defensive front has plenty of talent, led by defensive end Dearco Nolan and Tackle Jimmy Staten. Nolan has been very effective so far this year already registering four tackles for loss, three sacks and two forced fumbles.
The line backing core is also very deep and is led by this season’s two top tacklers in T.T. Barker and Christian Henry. Henry has 26 tackles, a sack and a forced fumble while Barker has 44 tackles, three tackles for loss, a sack, an interception and a forced fumble. Stephen Roberts is another productive linebacker, who already has two TFL’s, a sack, an interception and a fumble recovery.
The secondary is led by a couple of play makers in safety Kevin Byard and corner back Kenneth Gilstrap. Byard has 24 tackles, two pass break-ups and an interception while Gilstrap has 21 tackles, two pass break-ups, an interception and a forced fumble.