MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – With the completion of final exams, the Middle Tennessee football team returned to practice on Friday in preparation to play Navy in the 2013 Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl on Dec. 30 in Fort Worth, Texas.
The Blue Raiders returned to practice for the first time since taking the field against UTEP on Nov. 30. Middle Tennessee is making its fourth bowl appearance under Coach Rick Stockstill. The Raiders’ record of 8-4 this season marked the first time since 1992 that a MT team had reached eight or more wins in back-to-back years.
“We had a lot of enthusiasm today and are excited to be back at practice,” noted Stockstill. “I have always said that if you are practicing when you are cold, then you’ve had a great year. We are through with exams, so we are all football and getting ready for this game. I was pleased with our practice today.”
Now, Middle Tennessee is turning its focus to the U.S. Naval Academy. The Midshipmen play longtime rival Army in the 114th meeting on Saturday afternoon at 2:10 p.m. CT.
“The tradition and history that the Naval Academy has over the years is great. Then you look at what those men and women do for our freedom,” said Stockstill. “You have another level of respect for them. It will be neat to see them.”
The Blue Raiders will face an option-based team for the first time since upsetting Georgia Tech, 49-28, on Sept. 29, 2012. The option attack is led by quarterback Kennan Reynolds, who has a nation-best 26 rushing touchdowns this season.
“It’s going to take a lot of mental focus,” said senior linebacker Roderic Blunt. “We have to be disciplined. You’ve got to know your keys. Everybody has to rake their own leaves. You can’t be selfish and try to make a play by taking chances. We just have to work as a team.”
The rest has been welcomed by the Blue Raider players and staff. The squad will use the upcoming week to practice before returning to their respective homes next Saturday for the Holiday break.
“You have your destination and objective in mind,” said quarterback Logan Kilgore. “Right now with the first one back today, it kind of feels like fall camp. We are just trying to get all the rust off and get back into it. After we progress the next couple of days, we’ll start tightening down more on Navy.”
Kickoff for the Armed Forces Bowl is set for 10:45 a.m. on Dec. 30 inside Amon G. Carter Stadium in Fort Worth, Texas. Fans need to purchase tickets through the Middle Tennessee ticket office by calling 1-888-YES-MTSU or logging onto GoBlueRaiders.com. Tickets for the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl are $50 and will include an official T-Shirt. The commemorative shirt will be a collector’s item and fans are encouraged to wear it at the game.
Additionally, all seats will be will-call only, and available for pick up at the Blue Raider ticket office, located at Gate 1A of Floyd Stadium, at the team hotel in Fort Worth, or at Amon G. Carter Stadium on the day of the game. When picking up your tickets, you will also be able to select your t-shirt size at the same time.
All seat/ticket assignments will begin on Saturday, December 14. BRAA members and season ticket holders will have first priority when it comes to ticket allocation.
Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill
On the first day back:
We had a lot of enthusiasm today and are excited to be back at practice. I have always said that if you are practicing when you are cold, then you’ve had a great year. These guys have had a great year. Their energy was good. Their focus was good. We are through with exams, so we are all football and getting ready for this game. I was pleased with our practice today.
On the challenges Navy presents:
We are just now getting into studying them because we have been on the road recruiting. We got back off the road last night, so we started watching them today a little bit. They are a very dangerous offense with what they run. You don’t see it very much. They execute at a high level. They do a great job of protecting the ball. They are in the top-10 in turnover margin, so they have done a good job. Their quarterback (Kennan Reynolds) is excellent. Very seldom does he make mistakes. He can beat you with his feet and can beat you with his decision making process. He is good and their defense does not give up big plays. I just have not watched enough of them yet to give you a really in-depth answer.
On Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds:
He is a different player than what we were looking at in the recruiting process ,but he is an excellent player. He has a lot of intangibles that you look for in quarterback. He appears to be a great leader and I am sure he is if he is at the Naval Academy. He is an excellent football player.
On the honor to play Navy in the Armed Forces Bowl:
The tradition and history that the Naval Academy has over the years is great. Then you look at what those men and women do for our freedom. You have another level of respect for them. It will be neat to see them. One of the luncheons we will go to they will be in their dress whites. It will be neat and the pageantry of that. It does mean a lot more.
Redshirt Senior QB Logan Kilgore
On returning to practice:
It’s exciting to get back on the field. It seems like guys are well-rested. Coach has done a great job of giving us a little time off. Now, we are getting back ready to roll.
On prepping for Navy:
We are facing an option offense in Navy. This time is going to be great for our defense to go through all the reps and reading their keys. Offensively, we can use all the time we can get out there just repping our routes and doing everything we can to get things going again.
On if he will be watching the Army-Navy game:
I’ll be taping it and watch the coaches copy. I think it’s a great tradition. It’s kind of weird that we’re preparing for them for a week now and they still have another game. I’ll definitely be tuned in.
On returning to practice after the two week break:
You have your destination and objective in mind. Right now with the first one back today, it kind of feels like fall camp a bit. We are just trying to get all the rust off and get back into it. After we progress the next couple of days, we’ll start tightening down more on Navy.
Redshirt Senior LB Roderic Blunt
On staying disciplined against Navy’s option attack:
It’s going to take a lot of mental focus. We have to be disciplined. That’s number one when you are playing a team like this. You’ve got to be disciplined. You’ve got to know your keys. Everybody has to rake their own leaves. You can’t be selfish and try to make a play by taking chances. We just have to work as a team. We’ve just got to go out there and focus and make sure we are mentally prepared.
On if playing Georgia Tech last year helps the team:
It helps a lot because we played a team just like this. We have an opportunity to watch film on ourselves to see what type of keys we need to make. Basically, just go out there and have fun. I am going to have fun and I know my teammates are going to have fun.
On Navy quarterback Kennan Reynolds:
He’s a good player. He’s a brilliant athlete just like us. We have athletes on our team. It’s going to be a dogfight. That’s the type of teams I like.