Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill seems to relish the underdog role.
Don't expect the Blue Raiders — who hail from Murfreesboro, Tenn. — to be intimidated when they visit LaVell Edwards Stadium to take on BYU Friday (7 p.m., ESPNU).
“This is your next game, so it's the most important game right now. It's a great opportunity. We're going to go there four-touchdown underdogs. Nobody thinks we can win it but us," Stockstill said. “I think recruits recognize what kind of program we have established right now. We're going to get a lot of publicity because nobody thinks we can go to BYU and win. Nobody thought we could go to Georgia Tech and win. Nobody thought we would go to North Carolina and win except us. That's how we approach it. I think we've established this program now that we're past the 'wow' factor. At least we are inside these rooms. We're disappointed not to be 4-0 right now to be honest with you.”
It marks the first meeting between the two schools. BYU is scheduled to play at Middle Tennessee next season. The Blue Raiders (3-1) have earned victories over Western Carolina, Memphis and a 42-35 overtime win over Florida Atlantic last week. Their only loss came at the hands of North Carolina on Sept. 7.
Now, Middle Tennessee heads out West.
“I've never been to BYU. I've never seen their stadium or competed against them,” Stockstill said. “That challenge will be different and unique. It's the next game on the schedule. That's how I approach it. I'm not sitting here wishing we were playing an SEC team, an ACC team or a Conference USA team. It's the next team up. We'll go play it, and hopefully we'll play our best game.”
Most of the Blue Raiders have never been to the state of Utah before. One that has is quarterback Logan Kilgore, who is from California.
“Growing up in California, BYU is known, and I have had friends that have gone there, played sports there and graduated from there,” Kilgore said. “Families that I know will be coming to the game have a history with BYU. It's an exciting time for not only me, but everybody else. It's another game on the schedule, but we definitely recognize that there is a difference going way out West.”
“Everybody's going to talk about the altitude. That doesn't mean anything,” Stockstill said of playing in Provo. “We have to go out there and play our best football game. It's a great opportunity for us to go out there, and play our best game offensively, defensively and in the kicking game. Hopefully, we'll go out there and get a win. We'll approach this game no differently than we approached FAU, Memphis, North Carolina or Western Carolina. To me, it's the next game up, let's go out there and get a win.”
A week ago, against Florida Atlantic, Middle Tennessee running back Reggie Whatley gained 154 yards and scored three touchdowns. Running back Jordan Parker averages 5.1 yards per carry and has already recorded three 100-yard rushing games this season.
“Last week, we were able to establish the run. We were able to protect Logan,” Stockstill said. “We didn't give up any sacks, and we ran for nearly 300 yards. We created some sacks on the other side of the ball. I thought we did a good job for the most part of stopping the run. (BYU’s) going to get their runs. What we have to do is be really good defensively on first down. We have to be able to put it in third and long.”
BYU coaches and players say Middle Tennessee’s speed could pose a challenge.
“They have really good team speed. They’re very capable,” said Cougar offensive coordinator Robert Anae. “On defense, they do a lot of variety of things. Our guys have had to prepare for a lot of different looks. We expect a fast opponent.”
“They're a fast team,” said BYU wide receiver Mitch Mathews. “People might think that they don't have a good football team because they're not a big school. But we know they're a good team and that they're very fast. We need to prepare and come out playing hard in order to get a win.”
Copyright 2017, Deseret News Publishing Company