Back in January of 2010, Rick Stockstill turned down a chance to become East Carolina’s football coach.
Deep into the recruiting process, Stockstill felt hypocritical if he left Middle Tennessee State for another job just two weeks before national signing day. Besides, the future looked pretty bright for the Blue Raiders after an historic 2009 season, capped by MTSU’s first bowl win.
Boy, that ECU job must look appealing now.
Since Stockstill withdrew his name from consideration, MTSU has lost 18 of 26, including just two wins in 12 games last fall.
Last Thursday, it sunk right back into the hole it dug last year with a stunning 27-21 season-opening loss to visiting McNeese State, a Football Championship Subdivision opponent. The Cowboys hadn’t beaten an FBS foe since 2001 but ran right past the Blue Raiders, gaining 298 yards on the ground.
MTSU trailed by as many as 18 and ultimately endured its seventh straight loss, which matches the longest streak in Stockstill’s seven years.
Many of the demons the Blue Raiders swore they exorcised in the offseason, reared their ugly heads. Shoddy run defense was at the top of the list, but followed closely a lack of big plays on offense and lopsided turnover margin. The Blue Raiders lost two fumbles and Logan Kilgore threw an interception while the Cowboys held onto the ball.
In the big picture, one dismal season can be overlooked. But two?
Consistent losing can start to unravel the momentum Stockstill built in his first five years — and threaten job security.
• Tennessee 35, North Carolina State 21: Good news — Tyler Bray didn’t wear out his arm throwing beer bottles onto parked cars this summer. The junior set the tone with two long first-quarter TD bombs — from 41 and 72 yards away — and torched the Wolfpack for 333 yards.
• Tennessee State 17, Florida A&M 14: Bend but don’t break to the extreme. The Tigers allowed two touchdowns late but there wouldn’t be a third. Two consecutive goal-line stops at the 1-yard line with 42 seconds left preserved the win at the annual John Merritt Classic.
• Tennessee Tech 41, Hampton 31: Da’Rick Rogers received much of the hype after transferring from Tennessee just three days before. The former All-SEC wide receiver didn’t disappoint with three catches and a touchdown but the night belonged to former high school teammate and Golden Eagles quarterback Tre Lamb (339 yards, four TDs).
• Western Kentucky 49, Austin Peay 10: An area to improve? How about pass defense? The Govs gave up 352 yards and four touchdowns through the air and are still winless 22 trips to Bowling Green.
BY THE NUMBERS
20 — TSU penalties for 178 yards. The nearly two dozen yellow flags shattered the previous school record of 12, which also occurred against Florida A&M in 2002.
78 — yards, the length of Vanderbilt quarterback Jordan Rodgers’ touchdown pass to Jordan Matthews in the second quarter. It was the longest pass play since Mackenzi Adams threw a 79-yard pass to Sean Walker on Oct. 25, 2008 against Duke.
4 — Interceptions by Tennessee defensive backs. The Vols had only nine last year.
35 — First-half points allowed by Austin Peay.
PLAYER OF THE WEEK
Tennessee WR Cordarelle Patterson
Da’Rick who? Patterson, a much hyped juco transfer, filled the void just nicely. In his UT debut, the 6-foot-3, 205-pounder scored twice and finished with 165 all-purpose yards. He showcased his speed by burning All-American cornerback David Amerson for a 42-yard touchdown catch. Later, he cut and juked his way to an impressive 67-yard touchdown on an end-around, with Amerson as his last victim.
LOCAL PLAYER OF NOTE
Tennessee-Martin kicker Cody Sandlin
The Goodlettsville native went from goat to hero real quick. The senior shook off two early misses and nailed two field goals in the final minutes of a 20-17 victory at Memphis. His last couldn’t have been more crucial, lifting the Skyhawks to their first win over an FBS opponent when he drilled a 43-yarder with four seconds left. For his effort he was named the Ohio Valley Conference specialist of the week.
QUOTE OF NOTE
“I don’t I have a whole of patience. I’m pleased with the progress. There is a lot of good things for us to build on ... but we’ve got find ways to capitalize on opportunities. Because an opportunity was here tonight.” — Vanderbilt coach James Franklin after season-opening loss to South Carolina on Thursday
THE WEEK AHEAD
No. 16 Virginia Tech battled Georgia Tech on Monday night, which left the Hokies just four days to prepare for visiting Austin Peay on Saturday. Perhaps the quick turnaround will benefit the Govs? One can dream. ... The classics continue for TSU as the Tigers head to Memphis to play Jackson State on Saturday in the Southern Heritage Classic, which is expected to draw 50,000 to the Liberty Bowl. ... Eighteen is the magic number for Saturday’s UT-Georgia State matchup. Longtime coach Bill Curry will take on Tennessee for the 18th time (and with four different teams). The Vols have won 18 straight home openers dating back to 1994. ... MTSU hopes to get off the schneid against Sun Belt doormat Florida Atlantic in Murfreesboro on Saturday. The Owls were one of two teams the Blue Raiders beat last year.