MT COMING OFF SOLID WIN
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. – After a nice showing in a 37-17 homecoming win over FIU, Middle Tennessee is back on the road in Week 7 trying to top the .500 mark for the first time in 2017.
The Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-1 Conference USA) will travel to Birmingham, Ala., Saturday to rekindle their series with the UAB Blazers (3-2, 1-1) in a cross-divisional Conference USA matchup.
“I’m looking forward to this game,” MT Head Coach Rick Stockstill said. “They’ve got some really, really talented players on both sides of the ball. This is going to be a really tough challenge for us … this is a good football team we’re getting ready to play.”
The Blazers are in the midst of their first season back in Division I football after terminating their program in December 2014. It’ll be the first matchup between the schools since that season, a 34-22 MT win in Murfreesboro. The Blue Raiders own a 3-2 advantage in five meetings.
Middle Tennessee is hoping to build upon what was its cleanest-played game of the season against FIU.
After losing the turnover battle in every game to start the season, the Blue Raiders finally found a way to not give up the football on Saturday and forced two Panther turnovers.
“It’s a perfect example that if you don’t beat yourself, don’t turn the ball over and don’t put your defense on a short field, you have a chance to beat anybody,” Stockstill said. “It was a welcoming feeling to walk off that field and know we didn’t turn the ball over finally.”
A big reason for the absence of turnovers was a solid outing from redshirt sophomore quarterback John Urzua. The tall right-hander had possibly the most efficient game of his career, completing 25-of-31 passes for 250 yards and a touchdown.
Urzua was also able to lean on a good rushing attack, led by freshman Brad Anderson (112 yards) and junior Tavares Thomas (three rushing TDs), and a defense that only allowed 85 FIU rushing yards. Linebacker Khalil Brooks led the way defensively with eight tackles, five tackles for loss, three sacks and a forced fumble, earning C-USA Defensive Player of the Week.
Both Urzua, assuming starter Brent Stockstill isn’t back from injury, and Middle Tennessee’s rushing defense will have to come out to play again in Birmingham. The Blazers currently rank second in C-USA in passing defense (185 yards allowed per game) and fourth in rushing offense (203.2 yards per game).
Freshman running back Spencer Brown leads the way on the ground for UAB with 92.4 rushing yards per game. Quarterback A.J. Erdely, who spent two years at Middle Tennessee before transferring to Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College in 2015, has also shown a good dual-threat ability. He currently ranks third in C-USA with seven rushing TDs.
The different formations and schemes the Blazers are able to utilize with Erdely’s running ability make their offense hard to prepare for, according to senior MT safety Jovante Moffatt.
“They come out in a lot of different formations and do different things every week,” he said. “That will be one of the main things, is finding out what they’re going to do and adjusting.”
UAB is looking to build upon the biggest win of its first season back.
After an up-and-down 2-2 start that included victories over Alabama A&M and Coastal Carolina and losses to Ball State and North Texas, the Blazers surprised LA Tech last week with a dramatic, 23-22 homecoming win.
The win, which came thanks to a blocked LA Tech field goal as time expired, was UAB’s first conference victory since defeating Southern Miss 45-24 on Nov. 29, 2014. That should provide the Blazers with plenty of emotion and energy this week, something Stockstill hopes his team is ready for.
“We’ve got to have a great week of preparation and play and execute well,” he said. “They’re coming off a really thrilling win last week over LA Tech … and they’re very well coached.
“It’s about us going in and executing and being able to handle the different looks we’re going to see from them.”
Kickoff is slated for 5:30 p.m. CT at UAB’s Legion Field.