Opener wraps up schedule between Vandy, Middle Tennessee
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) — A series that gives Vanderbilt a nonconference opponent consistently bowl eligible and provides Middle Tennessee a paycheck from a Power Five conference is about to come to an end after Saturday night.
Count Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason as being in favor of getting Middle Tennessee back on the schedule again as soon as possible.
“Anytime you get a chance to match two Middle Tennessee teams together and play in Nashville, Murfreesboro it really doesn’t matter, it’s good for the state of Tennessee,” Mason said. “It’s good for our communities.”
The Commodores have gotten much more out of the series with than Middle Tennessee. Vanderbilt has dominated the series 15-3, including the last three years. That’s not how this series resumed in 2001 with Middle Tennessee winning three straight to stamp its jump to the top level of college football. Three of the last five have been decided by less than a touchdown.
Middle Tennessee rebounded from a 28-6 loss to Vandy in the opener a year ago to go 7-6 and win the Camellia Bowl. The Blue Raiders also won at Syracuse last year, and Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill thinks the series just makes sense with the schools 38 miles apart.
“I don’t know what the talks have been about renewing it, but it’s a game to me that makes sense for Vanderbilt and us,” Stockstill said. “I’ve enjoyed it. Going across the street to play makes more sense to me than going up to Minnesota to play, or to Syracuse .”
SENIOR QB SHOWDOWN
Kyle Shurmur got the best of Brent Stockstill a year ago, throwing three touchdown passes in giving Vandy a 28-0 lead on its way to a big win and a 3-0 start. Shurmur is one of the Southeastern Conference’s top returning quarterbacks, needing 2,962 yards and 20 TD passes to pass Jay Cutler as Vandy’s all-time leading passer.
Stockstill, son of the Blue Raiders’ coach, has 8,951 yards passing for his career with 77 TD passes. A good season could put the left-handed quarterback in rare company with only 109 players having reached 10,000 yards all-time in Football Bowl Subdivision history.
PRESSURE THE QB
Vandy held Stockstill to 166 yards passing last year, coming up with five sacks. Senior defensive lineman Dare Odeyingbo, who had two sacks in that game, said Stockstill is very confident when he can step into a throw in the pocket. “If you can get him rattled and out of the pocket, he makes a lot of mistakes and that’s something that we can thrive on,” Odeyingbo said.
LOTS OF RUNNING BACKS
Vanderbilt has several options to replace Ralph Webb, the school’s all-time leading rusher who’s now in the NFL with New England. The depth chart lists Khari Blasingame or Ke’Shawn Vaughn as starters backed up by Jamauri Wakefield, but Mason has made it clear whoever is running well will get more work. Middle Tennessee has its leading rusher back in senior Tavares Thomas with Terelle West behind him, and Thomas should be a bit more comfortable after switching to offense after starting last year as a linebacker.
Mason hired a defensive coordinator this year, handing the duties over to Jason Tarver. He’ll be tested immediately by a Blue Raiders offense that is as potent as any in the nation with a healthy Stockstill at quarterback. The Commodores ranked 65th in total defense last season but 89th in scoring defense giving up 31.3 points per game.
“We’re not going into an SEC stadium or an ACC stadium scared. We’ve done it and we go into those stadiums as much as we go to C-USA stadiums. We have four away C-USA games, and three away SEC games, so we’re not going to walk in there with our tails tucked between our legs.” — Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill.