While the majority of the United States might be thinking about turkey and dressing this weekend as they celebrate Thanksgiving with their families, the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (7-3, 5-1) will have a different kind of hunger in their bellies as they prepare to face off against the SBC rival Troy Trojans (5-6, 3-4).
The Blue Raiders will be looking to keep their conference title hopes alive, but to do so they will have to beat the Trojans, something they haven't done since head coach Rick Stockstill arrived on campus. Kickoff is slated for 2:30 PM in what will be the final home game of the year for MT.
Last week, Middle Tennessee traveled south to take on Sun Belt newcomer South Alabama. The Tigers showed up and let Middle Tennessee know early that they would not be an easy team to beat as they took an early lead.
The Blue Raiders responded though with two big runs by Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley, Middle Tennessee lined up at the 49-yard line where Logan Kilgore used play action to connect with Jeremiah Bryson for a huge touchdown that put MT up 7-3.
Coming out of halftime, the score was 10-6 in favor of the Blue Raiders, but Kilgore and the offense would be looking to extend the lead. After driving down the field, Kilgore found his favorite red zone target, Anthony Amos, for a 6-yard TD to extend their lead to 17-6.
South Alabama would not go away quietly though, answering with a touchdown score of their own to keep the game close. However, that would be all the offense they could manage as Middle Tennessee would go on to win 20-12.
As for Troy, they took on the SBC leading Arkansas State Redwolves. The game would prove to be an exciting shootout between two high-powered offenses.
The two teams combined to produce a total of 1,113 yards of offense - 869 passing yards and right at 300 rushing yards. Unfortunately for the Trojans, they were not able to pull off the upset as they often settled for field goals while ASU finished off their drives with touchdowns. In the end, ASU escaped with the 41-34 victory.
As the two teams prepare for the annual "Battle of the Palladium," Troy leads the series 8-3 and is riding a six-game win streak over Middle Tennessee.
Heading into this game the Blue Raider offense has been clicking on all cylinders, and it seems like Middle Tennessee has finally found a third option in the passing game in Jeremiah Bryson. On the season, the team is ranked 51st nationally in total offense as they average 418 yards per game - 230 passing and 188 rushing. The offense is averaging 30 points per game on the season and last week was the first time that the offense did not score more than 30 points in a win.
Defensively, the Trojans have one of the worst products on the field as they rank 100th in the nation, giving up 454 yards per game - 265 passing and 188 rushing - while also giving up 31 points per game.
The Blue Raider offense should be able to exploit the Trojan defense in every aspect of the game. Kilgore, who is having a career year, should be able to find his favorite target Amos early and often in the game. To date, the two have hooked up for nine of Kilgore's 16 touchdown passes. In the running game, freshman Jordan Parker should continue running against a below-average run defense. Parker has averaged over 150 yards rushing in the last two games.
If the Trojans want to slow down the Middle Tennessee offense they will have to rely on senior DB Brynden Trawick, who leads the team with 81 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, two interceptions, four pass breakups and six deflections. If he can lock down Amos, it will help the Trojans chances tremendously.
The Blue Raider defense has been playing better as the season has progressed, but they are still not quite "there" yet. However, MT put up one of their best performances against South Alabama as they held the Jaguars to just 12 points and 338 total yards, while forcing four turnovers. The defense will need an encore performance against Troy though - who possesses, statistically, the best offense in the conference.
On the season, the Trojans rank 12th in the nation, averaging 501 yards of total offense - 336 passing and 165 rushing - while putting up 31 points per game. MT's defense will certainly have their hands full as they have struggled at keeping high powered offenses in check. They go into the game ranked 85th in the nation allowing an average 430 yards per game - 251 passing and 179 rushing.
The Blue Raiders will have to focus on stopping the passing game as it is the strongest part of the Troy offense. The defense will have to step up though on the outside after one of their top corners, Kenneth Gilstrap, was lost for the season due to a leg injury.
The player to watch on the Trojan offense would have to be QB Corey Robinson. Robinson is 235-for-353 for 2938 yards and 11 TD's on the season. However, he has proven to be a bit of a gunslinger at times, recording eight interceptions on the season. Last week he threw for over 400 yards against the Arkansas State defense.
This game will prove to be another epic battle between these two hated rivals. Look for plenty of offense in this one, with both teams scoring early and often. I envision the winner being the team who has possession of the ball last.
A big focus area will be on which defense will bend but will not break. MT has done a lot of that lately, holding teams to FG's in the red zone. Troy's offense, like the Blue Raiders, has had problems stalling out in the red zone - so look for the offense that converts the most red zone trips into touchdowns to take this game.
Look for Kilgore to continue his hot streak as he throws for around 300 yards and three touchdowns. Amos will once again dominate the opposing secondary and will go over 100 yards receiving with at least one touchdown. Jordan Parker will, once again, go over 150 yards rushing and reach pay dirt twice. The Blue Raider offense could easily go over 500 total yards in this game.
The defense will struggle but like they have all season, they will do just enough to help the offense win the game. Robinson has a tendency to force passes and if the Blue Raiders can force a couple of turnovers, this game will be theirs for the taking.
One red mark on head coach Rick Stockstill's resume at MT has been the inability to beat Troy - well I believe that the time has come for Stockstill to strike that red from his ledger.