MTSU offense works fast, can't keep pace with Georgia Tech on scoreboard

Sunday, September 11, 2011 at 10:59pm

MURFREESBORO — Middle Tennessee State’s offense always is in a hurry.

So even when faced with a three-touchdown deficit before the end of the first quarter Saturday, there was no sense that it needed to pick up the pace.

“Like you saw on the last drive at Purdue [a week earlier[, we can move the ball down the field pretty quick,” quarterback Logan Kilgore said. “That’s what we planned to do.

“So we never change our thought process whether we are up by three touchdowns or down by three touchdowns.”

They also have no desire to shy away from playing opponents from BCS conferences despite the fact that the Blue Raiders are now 0-2 following their 49-21 loss to Georgia Tech before a record crowd of 30,502 at Floyd Stadium.

MTSU gave up nearly 600 total yards (596, to be exact), committed three turnovers and trailed by 21 points or more for the final 47:12 of the contest.

Other than the result, things could not have been more different than the team's 27-24 loss a week earlier at Purdue. The Blue Raiders outgained their Big Ten hosts by 40 yards overall after they went 50 yards — with no timeouts — in 44 seconds to set up a game-tying field goal attempt, which was blocked, as time expired.

“We love playing BCS schools — I wish we could play more," defensive end Jiajuan Fennel said. “The excitement is way higher. The intensity is higher and I feel like coming to the game as an underdog we have something to prove every time we play a bigger school.”

Saturday, MTSU’s up-tempo offense managed to squeeze in 64 plays, 11 fewer than the Yellow Jackets, despite the fact that it was more than 17 minutes in arrears for time of possession.

The Blue Raiders, in fact, nearly matched the visitors from the Atlantic Coast Conference in total yards (354-274 in favor of Georgia Tech) and points (28-21, also for Georgia Tech) over the final three quarters.

The primary issue was that the Yellow Jacket scored on each of their three first-quarter possessions — and did so at varying speeds. The first and third were one-play drives, touchdown passes of 73 and 71 yards, respectively, In between was a 98-yard march that lasted 9:25 and consisted of 17 plays — all runs.

“I feel like we still had confidence in each other,” running back Benny Cunningham said. “Everyone knows what we’re capable of. When we were behind, I don’t think anyone on our team was thinking, ‘We’re only going to score 21 or … 28.’ We feel like we can score every drive.

“So the fact that we got behind didn’t disrupt us any.”

Even with the level of competition it has faced, MTSU has averaged more than 70 plays per contest. With a slight increase to that pace over the remaining 10 regular-season contests it will top 900 plays for the third straight season. With an appearance in a bowl, that number is easily achievable.

The Blue Raiders have been among the top 35 in the FBS each of the last two years for total snaps, including 14th in 2009.

Ultimately, though, there did come a point when it was not enough simply to go fast. They needed to try to score quickly.

“We thought we could run the ball on these guys, and I think we did,” Stockstill said. “But we couldn’t stay with the run as long as we would have liked to have stayed with it.

“It [did] change when it got to be a four-score game there. Obviously, you get in a different mindset offensively.”

MTSU returns to Sun Belt Conference competition for its next contest. It travels to Troy for a game on Sept. 24, which is nearly two weeks away.

Predictably, the Blue Raiders are in a hurry for that matchup with the program that has won or shared the conference title for five straight years.

“I want to go play right now,” Kilgore said. “Obviously, we’ll take this extra week and get some guys healed up. But for me, that game can’t come soon enough.”