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Behind Enemy Lines Q&A: Middle Tennessee State writer Joe Spears

We catch up with an MTSU beat writer to talk about the Wolverines-Blue Raiders match-up

NCAA FOOTBALL: NOV 12 Middle Tennessee at Marshall Photo by Frank Jansky/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Middle Tennessee State is making the trip north to Ann Arbor this weekend, where they will face the Michigan Wolverines under the lights at The Big House.

The Blue Raiders hasn’t had a lot of success against Power 5 competition in recent years, and are 0-7 all-time against the Big Ten. However, this is a new year, and with that comes optimism from every fan-base in the nation.

We caught up with Middle Tennessee State beat reporter, The Daily News Journal’s Joe Spears, and Joe provided insight into the program and what to expect from MTSU on Saturday. Be sure to give Joe a follow on Twitter: @joe_spears7

Why Middle Tennessee lost 49-3 to Georgia last year

  • “Georgia’s just on another level. That was still fairly early in the year so I know MTSU was still trying to figure some kinks out to what they had to their team.”

Why Middle Tennessee plays top tier opponents and Power 5 programs

  • “They’ve gone to Minnesota, they’ve gone to Illinois, they’ve gone to Alabama a couple years back. They really schedule these sort of games to prepare for Conference USA play because not a whole lot of other teams in Conference USA really play that sort of schedule.”

The value of playing Michigan to start the season

  • “Especially playing them week one, you’re going to get some of the younger guys in there and they’re going to get the experience of playing in front of over 110,000 people. You’re not going to get that experience any other time this year.”
  • “You go in there and you come out healthy hopefully, you got that experience under your belt, I’m not sure anything else can really match going up there and playing at Michigan, prime-time, over 100,000 people. I think it’s a good testing ground for a lot of the young kids that are on the roster now.”

Do the people of Murfressboro, TN care about the match-up?

  • “People care about it.”
  • “There’s a lot of Michigan fans down here. Everywhere I go I see somebody wearing some sort of Michigan gear.”
  • “With the game being at Michigan, and being a prime-time game, it gives everyone a chance to really see what this team’s about, and it should be a lot of fun to watch for them hopefully.”

How’s the QB competition shaking out?

  • I’ve talked to (head coach) Rick Stockstill about that at length multiple times and he is not showing his cards on that.”
  • “It’s a three horse race really between those guys that are in the mix. Asher O’Hara, Randall Johnson, and Chase Cunningham.”
  • “Asher and Chase have really been receiving a lot of the first-team reps, so I wouldn’t be shocked if both of them play at some point against Michigan on Saturday, it’s just we don’t know who the starter going forward is going to be.”

Best athlete on offense

  • “On offense I’d go with (WR) Ty Lee.”
  • Currently he’s the NCAA active leader in receptions with 213.”
  • He’s a target machine, he’s a do it all receiver. Run, catch, he can do it all on the offensive side of the ball. I think whoever comes out and plays at quarterback on Saturday, they can use him as kind of a safety blanket. His hands are magnets for the ball, he catches everything that’s thrown his way.”

Best player on defense

  • “I think the top defensive player they’ve got is their safety Reed Blankenship. He actually led the team in tackles last year with 107. He had 4 interceptions, he had 11 pass breakups. He kind of does it all back there for the safety position. Against Old Dominion he had his best game ever, he had 17 tackles, he did it all. He had a 102 yard interception return that was ESPN’s No. 2 play of the day or something like that.

What will Middle Tennessee have to do to give Michigan a run for their money?

  • “Defensively, you gotta force Shea Patterson into some turnovers. As a Notre Dame fan I watched him last year, and I know in that first game (against Michigan) Notre Dame put a lot of pressure on him. I think MTSU has the capability to do that on the defensive side of the ball. A lot of fast guys. Just keep him in the pocket, don’t let him run around and hit those receivers outside like Nico Collins.
  • Offensively, hold the ball. MTSU’s not going to take a whole lot of shots down the field, they’re going to try to hold the ball. They’re going to run some short passes, they’re going to run up the middle, they’re going to run the ball down your throat.”