This Saturday, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (3-3, 1-1) travel to Denton to take on the North Texas Mean Green (2-3, 0-1) in a matchup of two former Sun Belt Conference rivals that are now looking to conquer Conference USA. The Blue Raiders will be looking to turn things around after losing their last two games while the Mean Green will be looking to secure their first conference victory. Kickoff is set for 6:00 p.m. CT.
This series has seen quite the pendulum swing over the years. After being dominated by the Mean Green in the early 2000's, MT turned things around under head coach Rick Stockstill. To date, however, North Texas leads the series between the two teams by a 7-to-5 margin.
Last week, the Blue Raiders took on East Carolina with each team vying for the top spot in the East Division. The winner would walk away with a one game lead over Marshall and put themselves in position to control their own destiny.
The game went back and forth as both teams had their fair share of highs and fair share of lows. The Blue Raiders found themselves down late, 24-17, after a Shane Carden touchdown pass. Logan Kilgore and the Blue Raider offense had their shot, but one bad decision put an end to things after Kilgore went deep into triple coverage, resulting in an interception that ended MT's chances. ECU would convert a crucial third down and milk the clock from there en route to the 24-17 victory.
As for North Texas, they took to the road to battle the Tulane Green Wave. UNT won in every aspect of the game, except the final score. Tulane got the win with help from their special teams and defense. In the second quarter, Tulane broke a 7-7 game wide open with two quick scores, the first of which came on a blocked FG returned 62 yards to the house. Less than two minutes later, the Green Wave defense picked off UNT QB Derek Thompson and took that 59 yards to pay dirt to stretch their lead out to 21-7.
North Texas rallied in the second half, though, even tying the game in late in the fourth quarter, but Tulane converted timely third downs and were aided by a UNT personal foul to set them up in Mean Green territory, where they kicked a 27-yard FG as time expired to take the win, 24-21.
The Key to the Game for the offense this week will be to build upon what the passing game started last week and producing a complete game against the Mean Green. Against ECU, the Blue Raider passing game looked the best it has all season, despite the mistakes and turnovers that continue to plague this unit.
Watching the game, the play calling and execution looked like it had changed a little bit - instead of going down the field and working on their vertical game, the old dink-and-dunk style that Blue Raider fans are accustomed to returned.
The adjustment, while not as flashy or explosive, looked to at least improve the struggling aerial attack, while also producing QB Logan Kilgore's best game of the season, statistically speaking. Kilgore completed 76 percent of his passes and threw for 245 yards, both of which were season-highs. Kilgore will have to build off of that performance, but more importantly, he will have to eliminate the interceptions going forward if MT is to have any success down the stretch.
As for the defense, their Key to the Game will revolve around stopping another high-powered passing attack as they will be going up against one of the better offensive units in CUSA for the second week in a row.
UNT averages 287 yards passing per game behind the arm of senior QB Derek Thompson, who is having the best season of his career with the Mean Green. Thompson has thrown for 1,346 yards to go with eight touchdowns and five interceptions this season, while also completing 68 percent of his passes, a dramatic improvement from past years.
MT will have their work cut out for them in trying to stop the Mean Green passing attack. On the year, MT has allowed an average of 278 passing yards per game, which ranks they No. 104 in the nation. With DB's like Kenneth Gilstrap banged up, the task becomes all the more difficult. The front seven of MT will have to get after Thompson and try to unnerve the senior QB.
I think this will be one of the best games of the season that the Blue Raiders will find themselves in. I think it will be a game where both teams will put up some numbers and I expect this game to go back and forth all day long.
With that said, I believe the Mean Green offense will be too much for the Blue Raider defense. Third down conversions will be a turning point in this game, and MT just has not shown the ability to get off the field in those situations. I think that will be their downfall this week.
Look for Logan Kilgore to have another good game, but once again, the turnovers will play a key role in deciding the game. Kilgore's decision making will be questioned again as he throws a pick in his sixth straight game.
I expect the three-headed rushing attack of Jordan Parker, Reggie Whatley and Jeremiah Bryson to be the reason that the Blue Raiders stay in this a game, with the three combining to run for over 175 total rushing yards.