Previewing MTSU’s Offense for 2016
The record-breaking freshman passing tandem of Brent Stockstill and Richie James returns for Act Two. Stockstill, son of head coach Rick Stockstill, passed for 4,005 yards, just 52 yards shy of Jameis Winston’s NCAA freshman record (4,057). James had 108 receptions for 1,346 yards, breaking school records in both categories. They led MTSU’s most productive offensive season in program history. Most of the records they broke were set in 2009 under offensive coordinator Tony Franklin, who returns to his old job this season. Franklin has spent the past six seasons at Louisiana Tech and Cal, but he’s back in Murfreesboro to take over a rising offense with a high ceiling.
Ole Miss transfer I’Tavius Mathers returns to his hometown to be the primary running back. He rushed for 1,061 yards over three seasons in the SEC. Desmond Anderson, an explosive sophomore, should be his sidekick in the backfield. There are a couple of holes on the offensive line, but depth from last season should fill the gaps well enough.
Franklin’s offense works best with a deep rotation of wide receivers. Terry Pettis is a 6'5" freakish athlete who had 612 receiving yards last season, and experienced wideout Demetrius Frazier is also back. But more targets will be needed. Shane Tucker’s move from running back to slot receiver could make a big impact. He has been an all-purpose playmaker for his whole career, racking up 20 TDs.
Previewing MTSU’s Defense for 2016
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Big holes remain at linebacker and safety as five of the top six tacklers from last season graduated. The defensive line and cornerbacks should be strong, but there’s some work to do for veteran defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix in solidifying the unit. Safety Kevin Byard, one of the best players in program history with a school-record 19 career interceptions, must be replaced by sophomore Jovante Moffatt and other inexperienced defenders.
There are new starters at linebacker. D.J. Sanders is a speedy playmaker. Myles Harges is a physical tackler who missed most of 2015 with injuries. Chris Melton and Darius Harris are promising youngsters. They are all athletic.
The defensive line is stocked with experience, including senior bookends Steven Rhodes and Chris Hale. Cornerbacks Mike Minter and Jeremy Cutrer make up one of the best coverage duos in Conference USA. Minter is among the team’s best all-around players, and Cutrer is a ball-hawk who led MTSU in passes defended (13) last season.
Previewing MTSU’s Specialists for 2016
Placekicker is open after starter Cody Clark (12-of-16 FGs) left over a scholarship dispute. Canon Rooker will try to transition from kickoff specialist to placekicker, but freshman Crews Holt will be another option. Matt Bonadies is back at punter after a steady freshman season in which he averaged 41.3 yards per boot. James and Desmond Anderson are the likely punt and kick returners, respectively, but both positions could be flexible.
MTSU can be penciled in for at least six wins, as the Blue Raiders have reached bowl eligibility in six of the last seven seasons. But this schedule has an obstacle with only five home games, which is especially key since MTSU has a 15–3 home record and 6–14 road/neutral mark over the past three seasons. There is a tough three-game stretch early on at Vanderbilt, at defending MAC champion Bowling Green and at home against Louisiana Tech.
A strong start would benefit the Blue Raiders, as the back half of the conference schedule gets easier. A Nov. 12 trip to Marshall, per usual, could carry ramifications in the East Division race. If the offense puts together another record-breaking year and the defense finds a pass rusher and new sources for disruptive plays, MTSU could be a Conference USA contender.