Middle Tennessee's Blue Raiders routinely play a tough out-of-conference schedule. Having played at Michigan in week one as well as a scheduled contest at Iowa in two weeks, 2019 is proving no different from years past. This week, however, Middle Tennessee got to host a program from a Power 5 conference with the ACC's Duke Blue Devils coming to Murfreesboro.
It's not often that Power 5 football programs visit schools from the lower-tiered Group of Five conferences. So, Saturday night was a great opportunity for the Blue Raiders to see how they stack up against some really good competition. Unfortunately for Middle Tennessee, things didn't go well for much of the night. The Blue Raiders lost 41-18 in a game that was never close after the first quarter.
What went right for Middle Tennessee?
Well, quite frankly, not much. However, there were a few bright spots from Saturday night's matchup with Duke. Quarterback Asher O'Hara once again showed glimpses of his great potential. Throwing for two touchdowns on 201-yards, the redshirt sophomore showed remarkable accuracy when he was patient enough to let the play unfold.
"I was running around too much. I should have just taken some hits and thrown the ball sometimes," said the redshirt sophomore quarterback following the game. O'Hara continued, "That last play was an open touchdown, but I'm running for my life for no reason when my line's working their butt off for me."
O'Hara ran for 97 yards, which included three rushes of 20 yards or more. Unfortunately, the six times he was sacked for negative-28 yards marred what could have otherwise been an incredible night for the young QB.
"He's going to get better the more snaps he sees, but he is leaving too soon," said MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill. Stockstill continued, "He's looking at one guy and running. He'll get better at that as we go."
What went wrong for Middle Tennessee?
This is an easy one. The defense could not get off the field. Duke was 8-for-14 on third downs and only punted twice. Both of those punts came in the fourth quarter with the game already well in hand.
"They did a good job of putting themselves in third-and-one, third-and-two situations and that's always tough," said Stockstill. "We never stopped them. The big thing was we could never get off the field," Stockstill continued.
Duke quarterback Quentin Harris played like a man among boys completing 24-of-27 passes for 237 yards and four touchdowns through the air. He also had the longest play of the night with his 65-yard scamper early in the third quarter. Harris finished with 107 rushing yards on the night.
The Blue Raiders did not have an answer for Harris or his favorite target senior wide receiver Aaron Young who made at least three acrobatic catches, including two for touchdowns.
It was over when…
Quentin Harris connected with Aaron Young for a 25-yard touchdown pass with 17 seconds remaining in the first half to go up 31-3.
After Duke scored its first touchdown of the night to go up 7-3, Blue Devils head coach David Cutcliffe called for an onside kick which Duke recovered. Five plays later, Duke was up 14-3.
That moment felt like it was the beginning of a long night, but it's what the Blue Devils did on defense the rest of the first half that stymied the Blue Raiders holding them at just three first-half points.
The touchdown just before the half felt like the early exclamation point.
Loud and proud crowd
After showing up loud and proud with over 20,000 for the Tennessee State game last week, Saturday's blackout crowd of 19,852 was a pretty good follow up. After a few less-than-stellar crowds last season, two straight games at the 20k mark is a pretty remarkable start to 2019.
MTSU's next home game will be October 5 against the always tough Marshall Thundering Herd.
Middle Tennessee has a chance to rest up with an off-week before its next big matchup at current-nationally-ranked No. 19 Iowa on September 28. It will be yet another major test for an MTSU program that does not shy away from playing the best of the best.