Hustle Belt: When you look at the Blue Raiders' schedule, it's hard to point out a marquee win. They beat Marshall, but it finished 27-24 after THREE overtimes. Other than that, we see losses to Illinois and Vanderbilt, as well as blow-out losses to conference foes LA Tech and Western Kentucky. Is the schedule deceiving, or are the Blue Raiders one of those teams that are bowl bound via the product of their schedule?
Jeremy: It is a little bit of both. The Blue Raiders are an incredibly young team that has a redshirt freshman quarterback leading the way. While they lost to both Illinois and Vanderbilt, they outplayed both power five opponents throughout the game and lost on last minute mistakes. Both of those losses were due to their inexperience at closing out games. The losses to LA Tech and WKU were a case of more experienced teams getting up on them early and never letting go. A little bit better ball security would help as well with MTSU leading the nation in lost fumbles (18).
HB: In their last 6 games, MTSU is 5-1 after starting the season 2-4 with wins over FCS Jackson State and lowly Charlotte. What has been the key to this hot streak?
JA: Actually believing they can win. MTSU came into the WKU and LA Tech games thinking they were going to lose and did. They went into the Marshall game believing they could win and they did. With such a young group overall, they needed that one win to give them confidence to beat anyone. Once the Marshall game ended, it was as if a different team was taking the field. If they played with the higher level of confidence they had from the Marshall game on, they would be no worse than 9-3 at this point.
HB: On paper, these this quarterback showdown should be great. Both quarterbacks are completing roughly two-thirds of their passes, and rarely throw interceptions. While Terrell is more of a downfield threat, Stockstill is great at avoiding the sack. What does the freshman QB have to do in this game that he hasn't in conference play to bring home the W?
JA: Attempt fewer passes and get some help from the run game. MTSU is notorious for going a little pass happy and skewing their run/pass ratio when they lose. In their seven wins, Stockstill averaged 31 pass attempts per game. In the five losses, he averaged 46.8 pass attempts. When they start to struggle running the ball, they have a bad habit of nearly abandoning it completely. If the run game plays well enough to let Stockstill throw 35 or fewer times, the Blue Raiders should win.
HB: While the Broncos have a solid pair of the receivers, the Blue Raiders have their own 1-2 duo. Richie James and Ed'Marques Batties have combined for 177 catches and 2180 yards while scoring 21 of the 28 receiving TDs. It appears Batties is the red zone threat to James' possession game, but what makes these two really shine on the field?
JA: With Batties, he has the amazing ability to use a 6-0 frame like a Calvin Johnson. It is crazy to say, but he plays like he is 6-4 with very good hands and can make defensive backs look silly covering him. The senior has an unexplainable knack for finding the endzone this season after only finding it three times last season.
James' ability to step in and immediately star in this offense is due to his redshirt season. During that year, both James and Stockstill were redshirts and practiced with one another non-stop. He has an unspoken connection with his quarterback, knowing exactly where to be and when the ball is coming. James is lightning quick, forcing the defense to find him before every snap. He has been outstanding versus the best of opposition, catching 47 passes in the five games against Alabama, Illinois, WKU, Vanderbilt, and Louisiana Tech.
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HB: I doubt we reach last year's insanity, but we should still have a great game. Do you think the Blue Raiders' defense will come up big and stop the Bronco offense, or will this be a shoot-out with the last team having the ball coming out on top?
JA: The only way for MTSU to slow down the Western Michigan offense is forcing them to run the ball. The Broncos will get their yards, but the Blue Raiders are in the top three nationally at limiting big plays in the run game. T.T. Barber is a huge reason with 11.5 tackles for loss on the season.
The secondary likes to play in an aggressive manner, sending defensive backs on lots of blitzes to make a big play. If Terrell can get the ball out of his hand before the blitz gets there, the Broncos will have their way in the passing game versus man coverage.
I think the defenses will make some plays, but neither defense is equipped to fully stop either offense. I see a 38-35 type of game with the last team holding the ball winning the game.
A huge thank you to Jeremy and Underdog Dynasty for answering our questions. Check out our answers to Jeremy's questions later in the week on their site.