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Can Missouri avoid passing downs against MTSU?

Let’s take a look at MTSU’s defensive two-deep.

Middle Tennessee v Vanderbilt Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Middle Tennessee gave up 47 points to Vanderbilt.

That probably conveys the message pretty clearly, actually. The Blue Raiders are a dangerous team because of a dink-and-dunk offense that can run you ragged if you aren’t sound in your coverage and tackling. But while the MTSU defense is good at preventing big plays, the Raiders try to keep everything in front of them, and they should allow Missouri to establish the run. Here’s to hoping, anyway. They shut down the Vanderbilt passing game but allowed Ralph Webb to run wild.

Defensive line


  • Steven Rhodes (6’3, 268, Sr.) — 14.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL (1.5 sacks), 1 PBU, 1 FF
  • Darrius Liggins (6’4, 232, So.) — 4.0 tackles, 2 TFL (2 sacks)


  • Raynard Felton (6’4, 267, Sr.) — 13.0 tackles, 3.5 TFL (2.5 sacks), 1 INT, 1 FF
  • Justin Akins (6’4, 257, Jr.) — 7.5 tackles, 2 PBU


  • Shaquille Huff (6’1, 330, Sr.) — 12.5 tackles, 5 TFL (2 sacks), 1 PBU, 1 FF
  • Malik Manciel (6’3, 268, RSFr.) — 4.0 tackles


  • Chris Hale (6’4, 259, Sr.) — 4.5 tackles (4 games)
  • Jahmal Jones (6’3, 247, Jr.) — 5.5 tackles

MTSU ranks 75th in Adj. Line Yards and 96th in Adj. Sack Rate. The Blue Raiders are decent at preventing open-field opportunities (49th in opportunity rate) but rank 70th in power success rate and 122nd in stuff rate. They do not spend a lot of time in your backfield.

Missouri, meanwhile, doesn’t allow defenders into the backfield very much. Drew Lock gets the ball out of his hands quickly (for better or worse), and Damarea Crockett in particular has been good at at least carving out a couple of yards on each carry. For all of the Tigers’ issues, they don’t move backwards very often (false start penalties against Florida aside).

Shaq Huff is still a load, though. He’s 330 pounds and is on pace for double-digit TFLs. That’s a combination you don’t see all that much. He could be pretty tough to move, especially if Missouri’s Alec Abeln is either out or only somewhat healthy after last week’s ankle injury.

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Texas-San Antonio
Shaquille Huff & Chris Hale
Soobum Im-USA TODAY Sports



  • DJ Sanders (6’0, 225, Jr.) — 23.5 tackles, 2 TFL (1 sacks), 5 PBU, 2 FF
  • Khalil Brooks (5’11, 197, RSFr.) — 13.0 tackles, 1.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 2 PBU


  • Darius Harris (6’2, 231, So.) — 34.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (0.5 sacks), 1 FF
  • Dale Craig (6’0, 218, Fr.) — 3.5 tackles


  • Chris Melton (6’1, 210, So.) — 27.0 tackles, 2.5 TFL (1.5 sacks), 1 PBU
  • Deontay Evans (5’10, 207, Sr.) — 0.5 tackles, 1 INT

The six MTSU linebackers above have combined for seven tackles for loss and three sacks; that’s not very much. But in DJ Sanders, they have a nice, versatile weapon who can play either close to the line of scrimmage or in pass coverage. And all three starters tackle pretty well; MTSU is going to give you four to six yards just about anytime you want it, but pursuit and good safety play combine to make sure opponents don’t get just a ton more than that.



  • Mike Minter (6’0, 181, Jr.) — 22.0 tackles, 6 PBU
  • Charvarius Ward (6’1, 186, Jr.) — 7.5 tackles, 1 INT, 3 PBU


  • Jeremy Cutrer (6’2, 170, Sr.) — 26.5 tackles, 1.5 TFL, 1 INT, 5 PBU, 1 FF
  • Dontavious Heard (6’1, 189, Sr.) — 18.5 tackles, 1 TFL (1 sack), 3 PBU


  • Jovante Moffatt (6’0, 191, So.) — 26.0 tackles, 1 TFL, 1 PBU
  • Darryl Randolph (5’11, 192, So.) — 10.0 tackles, 1 TFL


  • Alex Dale (5’10, 206, Jr.) — 29.5 tackles, 0.5 TFL, 5 PBU
  • Vernon Walker (6’0, 193, RSFr.)

Opponents don’t fear the MTSU pass rush. They throw 44 percent of the time on standard downs and 75 percent of the time on passing downs, both well over the national average. But the Blue Raiders have played tight enough coverage to get hands on 39 passes (four INTs, 35 breakups), 12th in the country. It’s an interesting combination of bend-don’t-break and tight coverage.

They’re also tough as nails on third down. They allow a 141.6 passer rating on first downs, which is very bad — you get the impression that run defense requires enough attention that it opens up passing opportunities. But on third down, they allow only a 100.3 passer rating and a 45 percent completion rate.

Here’s an easier way to put it: MTSU ranks 109th in Standard Downs S&P+ and 47th in Passing Downs S&P+. When you are in a comfortable enough down and distance to either run or throw, the Raiders can’t really stop either. But once you’re rendered relatively one-dimensional, they can swarm pretty well.

That makes the run game awfully important for Missouri. The Tigers have shown hints of being able to establish the ground attack in recent weeks, and MTSU could allow them to do that pretty well. But if they can’t, and Drew Lock is forced to throw a lot on second-and-9 or third-and-7, that’s pretty scary.

Middle Tennessee v Alabama
Dontravious Heard
Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

Special Teams


  • Canon Rooker (5’11, 184, Jr.) — 27-29 PAT, 10-12 FG; 43 kickoffs, 35% touchback rate


  • Matt Bonadies (6’1, 213, So.) — 24 punts, 40.0 average, 8 fair caught, 10 inside 20


  • Ruben Garnett (5’9, 178, RSFr.)
  • Desmond Anderson (5’10, 176, So.) — 8 KR, 20.3 average (long: 33)


  • Richie James (5’9, 180, So.) — 10 PR, 7.0 average (long: 21)
  • Ty Lee (5’9, 155, Fr.) — 1 PR, -2 yards

MTSU’s special teams are ... fine. Canon Rooker’s had a mixed record: He’s 8-for-9 on field goals under 40 yards and 2-3 on longer bombs, but he’s also missed two PATs. The rest of the unit is neither great nor terrible. Rooker’s kickoffs are alright, as are Desmond Anderson’s kick returns and Richie James’ punt returns. Special teams probably won’t kill MTSU, but they probably won’t win the game either.