The Blue Raiders defense of the C-USA east division crown began in earnest Saturday as Middle Tennessee defeated conference rival Marshall 24-13 at Floyd Stadium.
Featuring their traditional bend-don’t-break defense and a big-play offense that electrified the announced crowd of 15,000-plus, the Blue Raiders opened conference play with a big W.
Defense wins the day
Despite giving up over 550 yards of total offense, the Middle Tennessee defensive unit came up with big turnovers at opportune times Saturday. In addition to three interceptions and a fumble recovery, the Blue Raiders defense held Marshall to 2-for-6 on fourth down.
“We actually went over that fourth down situation a lot (in practice). We even had a special defense just for that.
We put it to use and everything worked out just fine,” said senior safety Jovante Moffat.
Moffat was the player of the game pulling in two interceptions and totaling 14 tackles—the biggest of which came on a Marshall fake field goal on fourth down. Moffat read the play and stopped the ball carrier five-yards shy of what could have been a game-changing play for the Thundering Herd early in the fourth quarter.
“Today was his day,” said head coach Rick Stockstill. He continued, “Don’t forget about that tackle he made on their fake field goal. He’s back there spying so he didn’t get caught up in all that. He made a great stop.”
While the big plays on defense got the crowd and the team revved up, forcing turnovers on downs by stopping the Herd on four straight plays, four different times not only demoralized their offense, it provided added momentum for the Blue Raiders.
Linebacker DQ Thomas, who added nine tackles and forced a fumble of his own, added, “When you know you’re getting off the field, it’s a relief.”
Thomas continued, “When you’ve got an offense with Asher O’Hara, you know he’s going to put points up—it’s big. It’s what we’ve got to do.”
Inconsistency on offense, but big plays made up for it
When Middle Tennessee’s offense was on the field, there were moments of frustration and inconsistency. However, two big plays to speedster Zack Dobson gave the Blue Raiders a two-possession lead in the fourth quarter.
The biggest offensive play of the game was Dobson’s 36-yard scamper for the touchdown on a screen play in the fourth quarter.
“Zack catches it at the line of scrimmage and takes it all the way. He makes me look good,” said quarterback Asher O’Hara following the game.
“That’s the momentum everyone needs. After that, we all believe in each other even more. I’m just thankful we have players like that.”
Despite the big plays, there was some frustration in the red zone for the Blue Raiders. O’Hara was blindsided by a cornerback blitz, nearly turning the ball over with a fumble that MT recovered. The play knocked Middle Tennessee out of field goal range and forced them to punt.
On another trip into the red zone, the Blue Raiders got all the way to the five-yard line before the drive stalled. On fourth down, kicker Crews Holt missed what amounted to a chip shot field goal from 22-yards out.
“We’ve got to finish drives offensively. We got down there twice inside the five and came away with a field goal and a missed field goal,” added Stockstill.
Next up: Florida Atlantic
Next Saturday, Middle Tennessee travels to Boca Raton, FL to take on Lane Kiffin’s Florida Atlantic squad. Coming off a bye-week following their first conference victory at Charlotte last week, the Owls will be ready to exact some revenge on the Blue Raiders who won a 25-24 thriller versus the Owls in Murfreesboro in 2018.
Kiffin’s Owls are passing for nearly 300-yards per game while averaging 32.6 points per game. That's good for second and third in the conference respectively.
Given their penchant for giving up the big play Saturday versus Marshall, the Blue Raiders pass defense is one big concern for Coach Stockstill going into next week’s matchup.
“We’re going to get tested. They’ve got really good skill-receivers,” said Stockstill. Their quarterback is playing probably better than anybody in this conference right now.”
The game is slated for a 3pm central kickoff and will be televised on ESPN+.
Blue Raiders Next Home Game: Florida International – October 26
Your next opportunity to see the Blue Raiders play at Floyd Stadium will be October 26 at 2:30 central time.