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October 24, 2013

Preview: MT vs Marshall

PREVIEW: MIDDLE TENNESSEE VS MARSHALL:

The last few weeks for the Middle Tennessee Blue Raider football team (3-4,1-2) have been tough, to say the least. Having lost their last three games, MT now also has a QB controversy on their hands.

Well, this Thursday, things will not get any easier as the Blue Raiders will host the Marshall Thundering Herd (4-2, 2-0) in their annual Black Out Game. The Herd enters the game leading the Conference USA East Division by one game over East Carolina, while the Blue Raiders currently sit fifth in the division. All hope of a conference title is not lost for MT at this point, though, which makes this game about as crucial as they come.

The contest is set to kickoff at 6:30 p.m. and will air nationally on FOX Sports One.

THE TEAM BREAKDOWN:

As previously mentioned, MT is mired in a QB controversy between RS senior Logan Kilgore, who has thrown for 1,086 yards, six TDs and eight INTs this year, and RS freshman Austin Grammer, who has thrown for 152 yards, one TD and two INTs, but has also ran for 151 yards and two TDs.

Kilgore has not looked like the player that Blue Raider fans witnessed last season as he has committed too many mistakes in critical situations. Grammer, on the other hand, has struggled to throw the ball with consistency, but does bring a second dimension to the table with his ability to run the ball and keep the opposing defenses on their toes.

Head coach Rick Stockstill has been mum all week in regards to who will start QB the game Thursday night, but whomever it is they will sure have their hands full against a stout Marshall defense. The Thundering Herd have allowed an average of just 298 yards per game - 180 passing and 118 rushing. The Blue Raiders will have to find a way to put point up against a Marshall unit that has only allowed four scoring passes all season while picking off the opposing QB 10 times in the process.

The offense will not be the only side of the ball where MT will have their hands full; the defense will be going up against one of the most dynamic offensive sets in all of C-USA. The Thundering Herd offense is led by Junior QB Rakeem Cato, who has thrown for 1,572 yards, 12 TDs and five INTs on the season while adding 175 rushing yards and three TDs for good measure. Marshall puts up 36 points per game and combines for a total of 450 yards per game - 277 passing and 174 rushing.

The Blue Raider defense has made some big plays this season, but they also have grown accustomed to giving up a lot of yards and failing to stop teams on third down conversions, which has hurt them tremendously in close games this year. On the season, the MT defense has allowed 30 points per game and gives up an average of 450 yards per game - 254 passing and 196 rushing.

Make no mistake; the defense will have to play their best game of the year to help keep the offense in the game. MT has done a tremendous job of causing turnovers this year, and that will need to continue to give the Blue Raiders a chance. When they do cause said turnovers, the offense needs to do a much better job of converting those into points. With an extra week of preparation, we will see how it all shakes out.

PREDICTION: MIDDLE TENNESSEE 20, MARSHALL 34:

The Blue Raiders will have a lot to play for Thursday night as they will look to spoil Marshall's perfect run through the East Division while also trying to get their name back in the mix as well as get one game closer to becoming bowl eligible.

On the flip side, however, the Thundering Herd will have a different mindset, as they will do all they can to stay atop the East Division and undefeated in league play.

I expect that both Logan Kilgore and Austin Grammer will get playing time for the Blue Raiders on Thursday, but I do not envision a scenario where either QB really pulls away from the other in terms of who should be the starter. Look for Kilgore to have some success in the short and intermediate passing game, but the deep ball will not be there as Marshall will be licking their chops deep in the secondary.

The running game will get a boost this week as Jeremiah Bryson returns from a health scare that was suffered on the trip to North Texas. His addition in the backfield will certainly help out Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley. However, I expect Marshall to get up early, which will cause the Blue Raiders to abandon the running game as they play catch-up.

I think the Blue Raiders will play better this week than they did against the Mean Green. In the end, though, it will not be enough as I predict that the Thundering Herd will handle MT with ease from start to finish, giving the Blue Raiders their fourth loss in a row. The Blue Raiders will show fight, but Marshall will pull away early and hold on late, winning 34-20.



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