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Middle Tennessee can dink and dunk you to death. Mizzou better tackle well.

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

We can complain about the Missouri defense’s performance this year, but the pass defense has indeed been strong. The Tigers rank 33rd in Passing S&P+ and currently rank 10th in pass efficiency. But from a styles perspective, the secondary will be tested on Saturday in a way that it hasn’t been all season.


  • Brent Stockstill (6’0, 206, So.) — 179-for-276 (65%), 2,091 yards, 18 TD, 5 INT, 4 sacks (7.4 yards per pass attempt); 25 carries, 160 yards (6.4)
  • John Urzua (6’3, 185, RSFr.) — 10-for-17 (59%), 106 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT (6.2 yards per attempt)

Brent Stockstill replaced MTSU’s incumbent as starter in 2015, a move that could have backfired on his head coach dad, Rick, had it not worked out.

It worked out. He threw for 4,005 yards with a 151.9 passer rating as a redshirt freshman, and projected over 13 games, he’s on pace for 4,500 yards this year.

There’s obviously a quality aspect here — MTSU ranks 12th in the country in passing success rate but only 57th in the opponent-adjusted Passing S&P+. He has a 146.4 passer rating for the year, but against the only power-conference opponent on the schedule (Vanderbilt), he managed 122.2. He got a lot of credit for throwing for 399 yards on Vandy, but it took 65 passes to do so.

Still, having an identity is a powerful thing, especially against a defense that really hasn’t figured its own identity out yet. MTSU will spread you out and throw constant, high-efficiency passes to its slot receivers. Stockstill has completed 65 percent of his passes, most of them short and easy. If Missouri is maintaining its discipline and tackling well, that won’t be enough. But if the Tigers aren’t...

Middle Tennessee v Vanderbilt
Brent Stockstill
Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images

Running Back

  • I’Tavius Mathers (5’11, 197, Sr.) — 115 carries, 725 yards (6.3), 10 TD; 34 targets, 27 catches, 295 yards (8.7), 2 TD
  • Terelle West (5’10, 186, RSFr.) — 31 carries, 123 yards (4.0); 5 targets, 3 catches, 2 yards (0.4)

If Mathers’ name sounds familiar, there’s a reason for that: The Ole Miss transfer and former four-star recruit rushed seven times for 66 yards against Mizzou in 2013. Mathers was pretty all-or-nothing as a Rebel and transferred after the 2014 season. He’s still a little bit on the all-or-nothing side — his opportunity rate (percentage of carries gaining at least five yards) is only 39 percent, and MTSU’s overall rushing success rate of 41 percent ranks just 84th — but the dude is fast. He’s rushed for at least 135 yards in each of the last five games.

MTSU gets its efficiency from its passing game and a lot of its big plays from the run. It’s an odd combination.

Still, this is a drastically pass-first team: The Blue Raiders run only 43 percent of the time on standard downs (121st in FBS) and 28 percent of the time on passing downs (101st).

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Vanderbilt
I’Tavius Mathers
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Receiving Corps


  • Patrick Smith (6’0, 185, Jr.) — 34 targets, 20 catches, 245 yards (7.2), 2 TD
  • Desmond Anderson (5’10, 176, So.) — 15 targets, 9 catches, 121 yards (8.1), 1 TD


  • Dennis Andrews (6’0, 179, Sr.) — 25 targets, 14 catches, 210 yards (8.4), 3 TD
  • Isiah Upton (6’0, 181, RSFr.) — 10 targets, 7 catches, 37 yards (3.7)


  • Richie James (5’9, 180, So.) — 86 targets, 57 catches, 792 yards (9.2), 5 TD
  • CJ Windham (6’2, 192, Fr.) — 7 targets, 3 catches, 16 yards (2.3)


  • Ty Lee (5’9, 155, Fr.) — 41 targets, 30 catches, 295 yards (7.2), 4 TD
  • Jevontey Smith (6’3, 207, Jr.) — 2 targets, 2 catches, 15 yards (7.5)

MTSU is relentless in its quick passing. James and Lee are being targeted a combined 25 times per game, which is ridiculous for any receiving duos, much less two slot receivers. And despite the quick passing, James has proven excellent at getting downfield all the same. He’s averaging 13.9 yards per catch with a 66% catch rate. That’s a tough combination to pull off.

The wideouts are there mostly to keep you honest. The four X and Z receivers above have been targeted about 17 times per game, but Dennis Andrews is averaging 15 yards per catch.

It will be interesting to see how Mizzou employs Aarion Penton. Do the Tigers keep him on the outside? Do they stick him on James non-stop? Do they have him doing a little bit of everything?

NCAA Football: Middle Tennessee at Western Kentucky
Richie James
Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

Offensive Line


  • Carlos Johnson (6’3, 323, So.) — 9 career starts
  • Jonathan Roth (6’5, 286, RSFr.) — 1 career start


  • Josh Chester (6’3, 308, Sr.) — 26 career starts
  • Robert Behanan (6’3, 301, So.)


  • Daniel Stephens (6’2, 304, Sr.) — 31 career starts
  • Conner Trent (6’5, 306, Jr.)


  • Chandler Brewer (6’6, 319, So.) — 17 career starts
  • Luke Harris (6’4, 297, Fr.)


  • Maurquice Shakir (6’3, 315, Sr.) — 18 career starts
  • Hunter Rogers (6’7, 327, Sr.) — 1 career start

Despite decent size, MTSU is not good in short-yardage situation. The Blue Raiders’ power success rate is just 53.8 percent, 117th in FBS. (Mizzou’s defense: 77.8%, 105th. Resistible force, meet movable object.)

That said, the line has been good enough to occasionally get Mathers into the open field. And its pass protection, combined with how quickly Stockstill gets the ball out of his hands, has basically taken sacks off the table. Stockstill has been sacked four times in 280 pass attempts (Drew Lock: three times in 220), and MTSU is second in the country in Adj. Sack Rate.

The single biggest key to this game will be how Missouri tackles bouncy receivers in open space. If the Tigers do it well, they will probably win pretty easily. But if short passes are constantly moving the chains, Mizzou will have to take some chances, and MTSU has good enough play-calling to punish that.