Darius Harris

Football Josh Vardaman

Raiders preparing for high-flying Monarchs

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. – If Middle Tennessee wants to keep pace at half a game back of FIU in the Conference USA East Division race, it'll have to be ready for a high-octane showdown with Old Dominion on Saturday.
"We've got to be ready to play," MT head coach Rick Stockstill said. "It's a great environment. They seat 20,000 people, and there will be 20,000 there.
"We just have to have a good week of preparation and get ready to play."
The Monarchs (2-6, 1-4) may only have two wins this season, but both are impressive. One came against then-ranked No. 10/13 Virginia Tech in Week 4, and the other was last week at WKU in a wild game that ended with three untimed downs, a returned field goal miss and a walk-off field goal.
ODU has lost three games this season – two in C-USA – decided by eight or fewer points. The Monarchs may not be in the conference title hunt, but they're still plenty dangerous. At least, that's how Stockstill and the Blue Raiders (4-3, 3-1) are treating them.
"They're going to be confident," he said. "[Last week] was their second win and they have four left, so they still have hope [of reaching bowl eligibility] … I'm sure it'll give them a lot of confidence this weekend."
Any fan of modern college football should be in for a treat Saturday, with two of the better offensive units in C-USA squaring off.
It will be a quarterback showdown between ODU junior Blake LaRussa and MT redshirt senior Brent Stockstill. The two signal callers have been among the most productive in the league this season, Stockstill winning C-USA Offensive Player of the Week twice and LaRussa once.
Stockstill is tied for third in the conference with 13 touchdowns against only four interceptions with 1,438 yards. LaRussa is third in yards with 1,941 and has 12 TDs and four INTs. His main target, redshirt senior Jonathan Duhart, leads C-USA in receptions (52) and yards (811, fifth in FBS).
"They have some good players on that side of the ball, some good receivers and a good quarterback," MT redshirt senior lienbacker Darius Harris said. "We can't look down on anybody or else we'll get beat. We have to go forward and give our best effort, no matter who we're playing."
Middle Tennessee will try to counter the Monarchs' explosive offense with a defense that's been playing well of late.
The Blue Raider stoppers bailed out their offense against Charlotte on homecoming last week, holding the 49ers to 13 points and forcing two interceptions that led to 14 points.
"Our defense has kept us in a lot of games, and it's been a complete team effort this season," Brent Stockstill said. "We just need to find ways to get more explosive plays and stay on the field longer."
Old Dominion can't hang its hat on its defensive performance like Middle Tennessee can. The Monarchs have one of the worst defensive units in the country statistically, ranking last in C-USA and 127th out of 129 FBS teams in total defense (514.4 yards per game allowed). They're also 122nd and next to last in the league in scoring defense (38.5 points per game).
The Blue Raiders should have an opportunity to get its struggling offense going, especially a running game that had only 33 rushing yards against Charlotte.
Coach Stockstill doesn't want them to think they'll just waltz in and run all over the Monarchs, though. ODU has proven it can be in position for a win late in a game, and with its good offense, allowing it to hang around can be dangerous.
"You can't look at their record and make any determination of how good they are, because this is a really good team," Rick Stockstill said. "Their season could be the opposite if they had a break or two … we've got to ignore all of the noise and focus on the game at hand."
Josh Vardaman is the staff writer for goblueraiders.com. Follow him on Twitter @J_Vardaman and also follow @MTAthletics for more on the Blue Raiders.
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