Before Saturday’s game with Middle Tennessee we look to our friends in Murfreesboro for some insight from their side of the field. Here’s Erik Bacharach of The Daily News Journal’s take on the match up.
Assuming we won’t see the talented Brent Stockstill at quarterback this Saturday, all eyes will be on John Urzua for the fifth game in a row. What did you see from Urzua against FIU that led to his 250 yard day and no turnovers?
Urzua’s performance against FIU last week was unquestionably his best of the season. The 250 yards on 25-of-31 passing were nice, but it’s the goose egg in the turnover column that represents the most significant step forward for Urzua. He entered the FIU game on the heels of a three-interception performance at FAU. MTSU responded by having Urzua begin the FIU game with short, easy throws, the type that were guaranteed to keep him away from trouble. He completed his first five passes, built some confidence, and held steady for the duration of the game. Much of his success, though, could be traced back to a solid outing from MTSU’s offensive line. Urzua felt hardly any pressure from FIU’s defensive front, enabling him to go through his reads and make calculated decisions. His mistakes prior to the FIU game often led to interceptions; his mistakes during the FIU game led only to incompletions. Urzua’s got a strong arm and is capable of picking apart a secondary, but it’s the mistakes that lead to turnovers that have been his undoing. He took some big strides in that department against FIU, and with Stockstill likely sidelined again for the UAB game, he’ll have to keep that going for MTSU to remain in the ballgame.
UAB currently ranks second in C-USA in pass defense behind an older, seasoned secondary. Who or whom will Middle Tennessee lean on in the back field if the passing game isn’t having success?
The Blue Raiders averaged just 63 rushing yards per game through their first three games, but the team’s rushing attack has looked considerably better its last three games, averaging nearly 163 rushing yards per game over that span.
Freshman Brad Anderson (46 carries, 296 yards) and sophomore Jocquez Bruce (26 carries, 135 yards) have emerged as MTSU’s top two options. Terelle West, the No. 1 running back on MTSU’s depth chart in the preseason, has recently reentered the fray after August knee surgery forced him to to miss the five first games of the season, but he still isn’t fully recovered and likely won’t be a significant factor against UAB. The Blazers also will have to keep an eye on Tavares Thomas, a linebacker who last week went off for three rushing touchdowns out of the Wildcat formation. Thomas logged six carries for 20 yards, with all of his touches coming inside the red zone.
You’d be hard pressed to find a better linebacker in this conference than two-time defensive player of the week Khalil Brooks. Who else on defense should UAB be concerned about on Saturday that may not make the headlines?
Aside from its play in a 38-20 loss at FAU on Sept. 30, MTSU’s defense has looked sharp all year. Khalil Brooks is certainly at the forefront, but the rest of MTSU’s linebacking corps has been solid, too. D.J. Sanders and Darius Harris combined for 13 tackles against FIU last week and have been steady presences all season. Defensive end Walter Brady, a transfer from Missouri, has provided an important boost on MTSU’s defensive front. And in the secondary, defensive back Mike Minter and safety Reed Blankenship have anchored a unit that has been consistent, though it hasn’t generated many turnovers.
If the injured star reciever Richie James returns this Saturday how much of a difference do you think he can make and what does he add to Tony Franklin’s heralded offense? Do you have concerns that he and Urzua would have chemistry and timing issues?
Richie James’ availability for Saturday’s game would dramatically improve the effectiveness of MTSU’s offense, assuming he isn’t significantly limited. James’ high ankle sprain has kept him sidelined for three weeks, but he was more active in practice this week than he had been since the injury. He will most likely be a game-time decision. If James does play and is himself, he’s essentially a lock for around eight catches and 100 receiving yards. He’s also capable of commanding the Wildcat and wreaking havoc on the ground. I wouldn’t be all that concerned about chemistry or timing issues between Urzua and James, who have looked on the same page when they’ve been out there together previously.