This Saturday, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (1-0) will travel east to Chapel Hill to take on the North Carolina Tar Heels (0-1). The Blue Raiders will be looking to upset an ACC foe for the second year in a row. Kickoff is set for 11:30 AM CT.
Last week, MT took on another team from Carolina when they hosted Western Carolina of the FCS. The Blue Raiders made sure they started the season off on the right foot, jumping out to a 28-0 lead in the early going thanks, in large part, to their running game.
In need of a spark, the Catamounts were able to take advantage of the Blue Raider secondary on multiple occasions to cut the lead to 31-18 heading into halftime.
The second half started out in a bad way for the Blue Raiders when QB Logan Kilgore injured his throwing shoulder after falling awkwardly on a scramble. This forced the MT coaching staff to thrust backup Austin Grammer into the contest to finish the game. The RS freshman was impressive, though, and led the Blue Raiders on his own share of scoring drives on the way to a 45-24 victory.
As for the Tar Heels, they took on No. 6 ranked South Carolina Gamecocks on the road at Williams-Brice Stadium in what proved to be a tough matchup for UNC. The Gamecocks relied on their stout defense as the Tar Heel offense could only muster 293 total yards while their own defense gave up 406 yards, with 228 of those yards coming on the ground. USC would win this one easily, 27-10.
The key for the Blue Raider offense this week will rely on two things. The first one will be keeping Logan Kilgore upright. Kilgore will start the game on Saturday even though he is likely not at 100 percent, health wise, after sustaining that injury to his right shoulder against WCU. This will be key because one wrong fall could easily make the shoulder injury worse, which could force him to miss some games - perhaps even C-USA games - which makes the decision to start him a risky one.
If Kilgore can make it through the game Saturday without re-injuring that shoulder, he might want to take his lineman out to a nice steak dinner.
The second key for the offense will be duplicating the production that the running game had in week one. Against WCU, MT's trio of running backs were able to rush for 270 yards on 49 carries, averaging 5.5 yards per carry. The Blue Raiders will similar results against UNC, that way they can control the clock and keep the ball away from a high-powered offense that will be looking to make a statement.
Considering the Tar Heels allowed six yards per carry in their first game, this is not out of the realm of possibility for the Blue Raider offense.
When it comes to the defensive side of the ball, the key for the Blue Raiders will rely on the secondary improving, and improving significantly. Going into the season, the secondary was one of the main question marks for the defense and Blue Raider fans saw why in their opening game. Two of the WCU's touchdowns came on deep passes where the Blue Raider secondary had bad coverage and were beat down field. There was almost one more instance where the secondary gave up a long score, but they caught a break thanks to an overthrown ball.
Knowing that they are going to be targeted, the Middle Tennessee secondary will have to be on their "A" game this week as they will have a tough task trying to stop senior QB Bryn Renner and WR Quinshad Davis, who have the ability to expose every weakness in the Blue Raider pass defense.
This Saturday's game has the making of a potential shootout and I do believe it will be a fairly high scoring affair, but I do not think the Blue Raiders will be able to score enough to stay in this game down the stretch as the Tar Heels will pull away late and take the 14-point win.
I expect the offense to get going as the rushing attack will continue to shine, but the defense will struggle to contain the up-tempo offense that the Tar Heels run and I expect the secondary to struggle for the second straight week as UNC tests them all game long.