Middle Tennessee is off to its best start under head coach Rick Stockstill at 4-1 as the Blue Raiders near the halfway point of the season.
With five contests in the books, MT ranks 10th in the nation in total offense (528 yards per game) and 47th in total defense (370 yards allowed per game) to go along with other strong statistical categories.
With a bye this week before squaring off with Western Kentucky (3-2, 1-0) on homecoming Oct. 15, we discussed with offensive coordinator Tony Franklin and defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix how both sides of the ball have performed this year and what they need to do to keep Middle Tennessee’s three-game winning streak going.
Breaking down the Blue Raider offense
In 2015, Middle Tennessee set new school highs in total offense (5,946 total yards gained) and points scored (442) along with several other offensive categories. Those records might not stand for very long.
Through five games this season under new offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, the Blue Raiders are averaging 528 yards per game (first in Conference USA) and 37.6 points per game (third in C-USA, 37th in the nation). Both of those are better than the averages they finished with last year, at 457 yards and 34 points per game, respectively.
What could be scary for upcoming C-USA opponents is Franklin doesn’t think the offense has even played up to their potential yet.
“We’ve done ok,” he said. “We can get a lot better – we haven’t played a great game yet, we’ve played some decent games.”
The MT offense has been led statistically so far by three key members: redshirt sophomore quarterback Brent Stockstill, redshirt senior running back I’Tavius Mathers and redshirt sophomore wide receiver Richie James.
Stockstill, who set school records in pass attempts, completions, yards and touchdowns last season, is proving to be even better as a sophomore.
He currently ranks fourth in the NCAA this season in pass attempts (222), fifth in the country with 15 passing touchdowns, seventh in completions per game (27.4) and 12th in passing yards per game (331.4). He’s currently on pace to break all of his previously mentioned school records.
“It’s just great coaching,” he said. “I’m just trusting my coaching and trusting the guys around me to make plays. My job is to be the point guard and distribute the ball to them to take care of it, so that’s what I’m trying to do. So far it’s working out, but we’ll try to get better.”
Mathers is making the most out of his only season for the Blue Raiders. After sitting out last season due to NCAA transfer rules – he transferred after three seasons at Ole Miss – the Murfreesboro native has shown so far why he was one of the most-hyped running backs to come out of the ‘Boro in recent memory.
He currently is tied for third in the country in rushing touchdowns (8), tied for fifth in scoring (12 points per game), 10th in all-purpose yards per game (169.8) and tied for 14th in rushing yards per game (116.4). He’s also tied for the NCAA lead among running backs with 10 total TDs.
Through five games Mathers is on pace to break school records in all-purpose and rushing yards and rushing touchdowns.
As Stockstill’s primary pass catcher, James currently ranks 12th in the country and third in C-USA with 110.6 receiving yards per game and eighth in the NCAA and second in C-USA in receptions per game (8.2). He has also scored three touchdowns this season.
Last year, James shattered MT school records with 108 receptions and 1,346 yards. He is currently on pace to exceed those totals this season.
“Good players usually play well every week, and I’d be surprised if he doesn’t play good football,” Franklin said. “He can get better, but he’s just a good football player.”
Of course, Stockstill, Mathers, James and the rest of the Middle Tennessee offense would be nowhere without a stout offensive line.
So far teams have only registered four sacks for 29 yards against the Blue Raiders. The four sacks allowed rank MT first in C-USA and 14th in the country.
“We trust each other. We have great chemistry and great camaraderie, and we just work together,” redshirt senior right tackle Maurquice Shakir said. “We just really try to be good at the small things and the big things normally take care of themselves.”
If Middle Tennessee’s offense is going to be as successful after its bye week as it was before, Franklin said they have to improve over the last few games and really excel at hitting on details.
“We have to get better at details on game day,” he said. “We’ve gotten better at practice details, and now we have to translate those over to game day details. We still have a long way to go to be as good as we need to be.”
With Stockstill, Mathers, James and a formidable offensive line leading the way, the Blue Raiders’ 2015 records may not be safe for much longer. Especially if they start playing up to their potential.