PROVO, UT – Middle Tennessee’s young, battered defense will get one of the nation’s strongest challenges on Friday night when the Blue Raiders play BYU in Provo, Utah at 8 PM CT.
The game will be televised nationally on ESPNU with Eamon McAnany describing the action and Anthony Becht offering color analysis.
Veteran Middle Tennessee announcer Chip Walters will handle the play-by-play for the Blue Raider Network, with former MT and NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb adding professional insight. BRN affiliates are WGNS-AM1450 and FM102.5.
In addition to having to adjust to a Friday night game played at a higher altitude than they are used to, the Blue Raider defense will face one of the nation’s premier ground attacks.
The Cougars, led by quarterback Taysom Hill (259 yards and three scores against Texas) and running back Jamal Williams (182 yards vs. Texas) will be, by far, the most potent rushing attack that the Blue Raiders have faced all season.
“Obviously, we have to stop the run. They are an extremely fast paced team on offense, one that likes to run first,” said Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill. “They ran 85 plays last week at Utah, and ran 90 against Texas. Their quarterback is a very good runner, as is their running back. It will be a heck of a challenge for our defense.
“Defensively, they have an end that should be a first-round draft choice (Eathyn Manumaleuna, an Outland Trophy candidate). He is a phenomenal player, so we have to figure out a way to slow him down.”
Overall, BYU is a much more mature team than most other college teams because of the two-year mission work that is required of all students at BYU. Some 50 players on the current Cougar roster have completed their mission work, and are now playing at ages a couple of years older than the average collegiate player.
While BYU has some really productive players, the Blue Raiders are not without award winners of their own.
Senior defensive end Dearco Nolan and junior running back Reggie Whatleycaptured Conference USA’s weekly Defensive and Offensive Player of the Week awards for their standout performances in the win over FAU.
Nolan, a senior defensive end from Atlanta had the greatest game of his career so far. In addition to making four tackles, he had a career-high trio of sacks and forced two fumbles to prevent a scoring opportunity for the Owls late in the first half, and then sacked the FAU quarterback for a four-yard loss on third down in overtime. On the next play, MT stopped the Owls to end the game.
Whatley was named the Offensive Player of the Week for his career-best day. The lightning-quick speedster only carried the ball ten times, but piled up 154 yards with three touchdowns. It was Whatley’s 64-yard burst up the middle late in the game that gave the Blue Raiders a touchdown advantage with only 1:32 remaining in the game. Whatley also returned two kickoffs for 80 yards, giving him 234 all-purpose yards for the day.
Whatley’s rushing performance was not the only offensive output for MT. Sophomore Jordan Parker racked up 115 yards rushing against FAU, his sixth time to break the century mark in the last eight games. His 108.8 yards per game ranks 26th nationally.
Logan Kilgore, the Blue Raiders’ redshirt senior quarterback, will be looking to his two favorite receivers against BYU. Kyle Griswould caught the winning pass from Kilgore against FAU, while Kilgore and his roommate, Tavarres Jefferson, have teamed up on 22 completions for 279 yards in the first four games. In all, Kilgore has thrown completions to a dozen different receivers in the first four games.
Perhaps one of the least noticed, but most effective, weapons for the Blue Raiders is senior punter Josh Davis. Davis leads Conference USA with a healthy 44.9 average, good for 14th in the NCAA national rankings. Davis has also placed 43 career punts inside the opponent’s 20 yard line.
Defensively, the Blue Raiders have struggled at times, handicapped by both injuries and inexperience. The defensive line, in particular, has been thinned by nagging injuries, but should be improved with a healthier Jimmy Staten.
Sophomores Jared Singletary and T.T. Barber have been standouts in the first third of the season. Singletary has come up with big plays in each of the last three games from his cornerback position. He scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 25-yard fumble return at North Carolina, and then sacked the Memphis quarterback twice in the last minute as the Tigers drove for a potential game-winning field goal. Against FAU last week, his interception with 1:42 to play set up Reggie Whatley‘s 64-yard TD run.
Barber currently ranks 12th nationally in total tackles and 7th in solo tackles per game (6.8). Sophomore safety Kevin Byard, a freshman All-American last fall, had his fifth career interception last week at FAU to seal the MT win in overtime.
Following the game at BYU, Middle Tennessee will return home to host Conference USA pre-season favorite East Carolina on October 5th at 2:30 PM. It will mark the first-ever C-USA home game for the Blue Raiders.