GAME PREVIEW: Middle Tennessee State at Army

Middle Tennessee State at Army
When: Saturday, Sept. 5th 1:30 PM EDT
Where: Michie Stadium, West Point, N.Y.
TV/Streaming: CBS Sports Network/Watch CBS Sports Network

The Blue Raiders and Black Knights have never met in football before this meeting and this game was quickly thrown together after both team’s schedules were thrown off-course due to concerns from the coronavirus. The two schools agreed to the game on less than a month ago on Aug. 10. MTSU was originally supposed to open its season at Duke, and Army was supposed to face Bucknell.

Last season saw a drop from winning seasons for both schools. Middle Tennessee’s 4-8 record (3-5 in Conference USA) was the Blue Raiders first losing season in nine years, but this season has hopes that Coach Rick Stockstill can bring the Blue Raiders back to its winning ways. Army, also, saw a drop after winning only five games in 2019. This was after back-to-back seasons with 10 or more wins and three consecutive bowl wins appearances for Coach Jeff Monken’ squad.

This will be just the Blue Raiders’ second game against one of the service academies, with the first being a 24-6 loss against Navy in 2013. Army has not had much success against Conference USA foes with just a 23-53 record all time. However, the Black Knights won two of three against Conference USA foes last season, with wins over UTSA and Rice but lost to Western Kentucky.

MTSU Blue Raiders (T5th C-USA East, 4-8, 3-5 C-USA) in 2019

The Blue Raiders won the 2018 C-USA title and did so with a good combination of offense and defense. Last year, the offense still was clicking under new QB Asher O’Hara but suprisingly took a big dip in defense despite being relatively experienced. The defense was the major reason for the team’s lack of success overall.

The MTSU defense allowed a conference-worst 459.3 total yards per game. The Blue Raiders also allowed an average of 29.9 points allowed per game. The unit’s return of only three starters from last year’s group so it will need to rely on some new talent to improve. The unit will benefit, however, from the return of S Reed Blankenship, who played in only seven games last season due to injury and is a past All-C-USA performer. A new group getting ready for a triple option attack on fairly short notice does not usually bode well for success.

The offense, on the other hand, should be just fine in this game and all future games despite losing what was projected to be their top two RBs in Martell Pettaway and Amir Rasul opted out this season because of COVID-19. This likely means more weight on the shoulders of O’Hara, who was also the Blue Raiders leading rusher last year.

Key Player: QB Asher O’Hara

O’Hara as mentioned above will likely be shouldering much of the MTSU offense not only in this game but for the season. He led C-USA with 306.2 total yards per game, averaging 218.0 through the air and another 88.2 on the ground. He threw for 20 passing touchdowns and added nine rushing scores, both of which led the team. He will have to keep up the scoring in what may be a fairly high scoring game and will have to limit any turnovers in this road game for the Blue Raiders to have a chance.

Army Black Knights (5-7 Overall) in 2019

The Black Knights named named junior Christian Anderson the starter at quarterback this week. Fellow junior Jabari Laws has been recovering from a late-season knee injury from a year ago and was seemed to be the brighter of the two quarterbacks but Anderson had been leading the offense during the preseason.

Anderson showed late in the season he could run the option offense and in keeping it himself. He totaled 33 carries in the final two games of the season after Laws’ injury. He will have an experienced, senior set of backfield mates in Sandon McCoy and Artice Hobbs IV, as well as a veteran offensive line so the offense should be able to click this week especially against a young and not option offense seasoned defense of MTSU. The

The Army defense suprisingly finished as the 30th statiscially best squad in all of FBS for total defense at 342.3 yards allowed per game. It also only gave up giving up just 23.0 points per game for the season in one with seven losses. They do lose a few starters but much of that team is back this fall.

Key Player: QB Christian Anderson

Anderson did gain some experience late last year but overall and had 67 rushing attempts with a 6.4 yards per carry average in 2019. But that was in a backup role. He now was chosen to be the starter to begin the season. The question will be if this will play any role in his play. Also, having continuity with your backfield mates is key to the triple option attack. The questions of COVID 19 disrupting practices and the questions of the schedule this fall may have crept into all players. Anderson, as the leader of the offense, will have to be on the same page as everyone else and will also need to make the right reads in the option attack for the offense to be successful.

Fearless Prediction:

Typically, a opening game with an option team is the best time to prepare a defense. But when the opening game was not known until just a few weeks ago, it really is not like an opener any longer.

MTSU has not played an option team with this group of players on the team ever. The defense takes discipline to make sure they do not over commit and keep the lanes covered.

With an Army offense outside of its quarterback being experienced, look for Army to be able to rattle off some big runs in this game.

MTSU’s QB O’Hara will keep it interesting most likely with a few plays down the field both with his ability to run and to pass in what will be in moderately high scoring game.

But with the home field even with only Army’s cadets in attendence will be what give the Black Knights the edge. Army 31 MTSU 27