If the first thing you think of when you hear “Middle Tennessee State” is the video below, you aren’t the only one.
But for today, let’s focus on football, shall we? The Michigan Wolverines square off under the light at the Big House this Saturday against the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders. As of me writing this, the Wolverines are a 33.5-point favorite, but that isn’t to say the Blue Raiders have the roster or coaching staff of an FCS school.
Let’s start with head coach Rick Stockstill. He was a quarterback at Florida State under legendary coach Bobby Bowden from 1977-81. He has been coaching since 1983 when he was the quarterbacks coach and offensive coordinator at Bethune-Cookman. He has also had stints at Central Florida, Clemson, East Carolina and South Carolina. So he has been around for a hot minute.
Stockstill has been the head coach of MTSU since 2006, compiling a 87-78 record in the regular season and 2-6 in bowl games. His team won a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship during his first season, and the Conference USA East Division last year. The Blue Raiders lost to UAB by two points in the conference championship, just one week after defeating them 27-3 in the regular season.
The Blue Raiders have the NCAA’s active receiving leader (213 catches) in senior receiver Ty Lee. The 5-foot-9 shifty receiver has at least one catch in 40 straight games and is four games away from breaking the school record. Last season, Lee had 71 catches for 883 yards and 7 touchdowns, leading the team in all three categories.
Although Lee returns for one final season, who throws him the ball is to be determined. MTSU’s all time passing leader, Brent Stockstill, the son of Rick, graduated. The two guys who got some run last year who may take over are redshirt sophomores Asher O’Hara and Chase Cunningham.
O’Hara only threw the ball 20 times in 2018, while Cunningham threw it just once. But O’Hara got some work done on the ground, rushing for 103 yards and 1 touchdown on 23 attempts. Cunningham can also use his feet to his advantage, but did not get the opportunities O’Hara received last season to do so.
The quarterback position is a big question mark for MTSU, so Michigan’s defensive line will have a chance to feast this Saturday.
Meanwhile, on defense, the Blue Raiders return seven starters from a season ago, including two of their top three tacklers — junior safety Reed Blankenship and junior linebacker DQ Thomas.
According to MTSU’s website, Blankenship was not involved in any contact drills this offseason while recovering from a surgery. However, he should be good to go for this weekend. Last year, he had 107 total tackles, 8 tackles for loss, 1 sack, 4 interceptions, 7 pass breakups and 1 quarterback hit.
The dude can flat out play ball, and he will be someone Shea Patterson will not want to throw or run toward.
In 2018, Thomas had 70 tackles, a whopping 14.5 tackles for loss, 8 sacks, 3 pass breakups, 6 quarterback hits 2 forced fumbles and 2 fumble recoveries.
Thomas and Blankenship are the heartbeat of this defense, which should be the strength of the Blue Raiders this season. Michigan’s offensive game plan should be focused somewhat around those two guys.
MTSU has some ballers on their team that could provide Michigan some early season challenges. I’m not saying Michigan will lose by any means, but I could see MTSU giving the Wolverines a fight to begin the game, much like SMU did a season ago.