MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – Coming off its first win of 2018, Middle Tennessee will face its toughest test of the season in Week 3 when it travels to Georgia.
The defending national runner-up Bulldogs, ranked No. 3 in the country in the latest AP and Coaches polls, have done little to hurt their national championship aspirations through two games. They’re 2-0, having beaten Austin Peay and No. 24 South Carolina by a combined total of 86-17.
“Obviously, everybody knows the challenge that this game presents,” MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. “It’s a challenge that we’re excited for and look forward to playing.
“They have great players at every position … and it’ll be a great college atmosphere.”
Saying the Blue Raiders (1-1) are facing a mountain of a task on Saturday may be an understatement.
The tough opponent doesn’t mean Stockstill wants his team to change its mindset, though.
“When you play games like this, you have to play perfect,” he said. “Our players will be motivated and ready to go. We’re not going to back down from anybody … we can only control what we do, how you prepare, how you play.”
Middle Tennessee may have gotten some things corrected in its 61-37 home-opening win over UT Martin in Week 2, but there’s still plenty Stockstill wants to see improved.
Most notably, he wants to see his defense perform better fundamentals. That means making tackles.
“We have to tackle better; it doesn’t matter who you play,” Stockstill said. “We had a bunch of missed tackles this past game, so we have to get that corrected. We can’t have as many missed tackles as we did against Martin moving forward as we go to Georgia and get into conference play.”
If the Blue Raiders don’t tackle well against Georgia, it could be a long night in Athens.
The Bulldogs feature numerous five-star athletes on offense from three straight top-10 recruiting classes (ESPN). Most notably, a three-headed running back group of sophomore D’Andre Swift and juniors Elijah Holyfield and Brian Herrien could make things tough on MT’s stoppers.
Six of UGA’s top seven receivers also return from last year’s national runner-up team.
“They have a lot of great athletes on both sides of the ball over there, so first thing’s first, you just have to do a better job tackling,” redshirt senior linebacker Darius Harris said. “If we have any chance at winning this week, we have to do a better job of tackling and limiting explosion plays.”
After taking on Georgia, Middle Tennessee will be granted with its bye week. It couldn’t come at a more opportune time, according to the Blue Raider head man.
“We’re so beat up right now, we need to try and get healthy before we start conference play that following week,” Stockstill said. “I think the open date, especially this year with our injury status, couldn’t have come at a better time.”
Saturday’s game is scheduled for a 6:15 p.m. CT kickoff from Sanford Stadium.
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.