Adam Sparks covers Middle Tennessee State football for Daily News Journal and knows the team as well as anyone. We asked Sparks five questions to learn more about BYU's next opponent.
The Cougars take on the Blue Raiders this Friday night at LaVell Edwards Stadium.
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1. Most BYU fans are relatively unfamiliar with MTSU and its football program. Briefly describe the football program, including recent successes and difficulties.
Sparks: MTSU went I-A (FBS) in 1999. It joined the Sun Belt Conference in 2001 and won a share of the league title that first year.
After 12 years in the Sun Belt, this is MTSU's first in Conference USA. MTSU's best wins in FBS have been against Vanderbilt three times (2001, ’02, ’05), Maryland twice (2008, '09) and a 49-28 blowout at Georgia Tech last season.
Under coach Rick Stockstill, MTSU has gone to three bowls (and was shafted out of a bowl last season with an 8-4 record). Stockstill's best season was 2009, when the Blue Raiders went 10-3 with a win in the New Orleans Bowl.
2. What type of offense does MTSU run? Who are the primary play-makers?
Sparks: MTSU is pretty multiple, but it mostly goes three-wide and four-wide. No huddle and usually up-tempo. They will use the tight end and fullback in some situations. The QB is in shotgun about 95 percent of the time.
Senior QB Logan Kilgore could break or threaten some career passing records at MTSU. He is a reliable three-year starter, but he is at his best when the ground game is strong.
MTSU likes to establish the run first, mostly with power back Jordan Parker. Last week, it managed to get small speedster Reggie Whatley in space for 154 yards and three TDs on just 10 carries. Tavarres Jefferson and Kyle Griswould are the top two receivers.
3. Same question on defense. What's the base defensive system and the defensive standouts?
The defense has been a surprising bright spot this season, as it ranks very high nationally in interceptions, sacks and takeaways.
The defense is very fast and active, but undersized at most positions. Second-year defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix (previously DC at Southern Miss, Ole Miss and South Carolina) uses multiple fronts, both zone and man coverage and moves defenders around a lot.
The downside to MTSU's defense is that its smaller size can give up yards in power running games. Its strength is versatility, because there is athleticism and speed at virtually every position.
4. What are the keys to victory for MTSU? What are the key matchups?
Force BYU to pass, if possible, where turnovers and sacks are more attainable.
Win the turnover margin.
Get a big play on special teams (Whatley is a game-breaking kick returner).
Limit BYU's big gains on first down.
5. How big is this Friday's game for the program? What will it mean for the program to come out of Provo with a win?
It would obviously be a really big win. BYU is independent, but anyone around college football considers the Cougars a major program.
I know it's a tough road environment, but MTSU has made a habit of playing in SEC and ACC stadiums over the years, so it won't be anything out of the ordinary (aside from the high elevation, if that's a factor). It's a national TV game, but MTSU has also played quite a few of those over the past few years.
If MTSU won, it would rank right alongside those signature victories I listed in No. 1.