Middle Tennessee will look to overcome a tough homecoming loss as it travels to Missouri this week for an non-conference contest.
The Blue Raiders lost a nail-biter against rival WKU last week in double overtime. The defeat created plenty to learn from for the Raiders moving forward.
“We have to learn from it,” MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. “Players hurt, and as a coach you hurt because you lost but you also hurt because you see how much it hurts your players. The investment that they put into that game and then to not have the success they worked so hard to achieve makes it tough. But you have to man up, be a man and move forward.”
After three-straight Conference USA games, Middle Tennessee exits conference play this week before finishing the season with five-consecutive C-USA matchups.
Having an out-of-conference contest at this point in the season isn’t always the ideal situation.
“You played three in a row right there with LA Tech, North Texas and WKU, and you kind of get in a conference flow,” Stockstill said. “You can’t always draw it up how you want it or how you like it, but I’ve always like playing nonconference games early. That’s just the way the schedule falls this year.”
Missouri brings to the table a stingy defense and spread offense. Under first-year head coach Barry Odom, the Tigers rank second in the Southeastern Conference in passing offense at 308.5 yards per game. They are giving up 26.17 points and 438 yards per contest to opponents.
“They’re a very talented team,” Stockstill said. “Going on the road to their place will be a great challenge for our players. They’ve got good players, good coaches … we’ll have to be ready to play a really good football team this week.”
Where Missouri makes its claim to fame is in creating turnovers with its pass defense. The Tigers are the top team in the SEC at picking off other teams with 10 total team interceptions.
To counter Missouri’s ball hawking defense, Blue Raider redshirt sophomore quarterback Brent Stockstill will have to continue taking care of the ball and moving the offense. The signal caller currently ranks eighth in the nation with 2,091 passing yards. He’s thrown 18 touchdowns compared to just five interceptions.
“They’re a really good defense,” he said. “We have good players and great coaches. We’ll have a good plan going in, we just have to execute. They’ll make it tough on us, we just have to find ways to move the ball, finish when we get down there close and find a way to put points on the board.”
The Tigers also feature a sizeable front on both sides of the ball. That size defensively doesn’t mean they are great at getting to the quarterback, though. Missouri has only recorded 10 sacks this season, ranking 13th out of 14 SEC teams.
Middle Tennessee hopes its stout offensive line, which is tied for fourth in the country by only giving up four sacks so far this season, will again dominate the football game.
“There are a lot of guys who are involved in not giving up sacks. But the big thing is you have to do your fundamentals, you have to do your technique,” Rick Stockstill said.
Missouri’s offense shouldn’t feature anything that will catch the Blue Raiders off guard. The Tigers’ spread scheme is similar to offenses run by just about every Middle Tennessee opponent this season.
Sophomore quarterback Drew Lock guides the Missouri attack. He is third in the SEC with 1,714 passing yards to go along with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.
While Lock has struggled in the Tigers’ last two games, throwing three picks against zero touchdowns, he and redshirt junior wide receiver J’Mon Moore (465 receiving yards, six TDs) have big play ability Middle Tennessee will have to limit.
“First, we have to stop the run and limit explosive plays,” MT junior linebacker DJ Sanders said. “We go against a passing offense most of the time … we’re used to it now.”
If the Blue Raiders can continue their hot play offensively and slow Missouri’s passing attack down, they could spoil the Tigers’ homecoming. Win or lose, Coach Stockstill said his guys at least won’t be intimidated playing in front of an SEC crowd.
“It’s their homecoming this weekend, so they will have a good crowd,” he said. “We’ve played the SEC and the ACC so much now … we’re not going to be intimidated or in awe.”