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Minnesota Football: Opponent Preview #2 Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders

The Gophers should be looking to go 2-0 after this game.

Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

In the next three weeks as we move closer to the start of the 2014 Gopher Football season, we here at The Daily Gopher will give a quick preview of the Gophers opponents.  Next up is our second non-conference game, the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.

Name: Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders
Location: Murfreesboro, Tennessee
Enrollment: 24,000
Conference: Conference USA
Notable Alumni: Al Gore Sr., Country Singers Chris Young and Hilary Scott, Kelly Holcomb
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Last Season:

The Gophers first FBS opponent of the year will be the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders.  The Blue Raiders are coming off of a good season of 8-5 overall and 6-2 in Conference USA. They were given a berth in the Armed Forces Bowl where they lost to Navy 24-6.   However, their schedule was not the most impressive.  They beat up on fellow Conference USA foes and just snuck past Western Carolina and Memphis for their other two wins.  They lost non-conference games to North Carolina, BYU and a bowl game to Navy. They were completely middle of the pack last season finishing 69th in the nation in scoring offense, and 60th in the nation in scoring defense.

Key Losses:

The Blue Raiders will miss several cogs on offense.  Quarterback Logan Kilgore graduated after throwing for 2,500 yards and 16 touchdowns last season.  The Blue Raider's second leading receiver Kyle Griswold graduated after 465 yards and four touchdowns in 2013.   The Blue Raiders also graduated three of their starting linemen and their starting tight end.

On defense the losses will not be too severe.  Only three starters have graduated, with one each coming from the defensive line, linebacker corps, and secondary.  The defensive lineman, Jimmy Staten was drafted in the fith round of the NFL Draft by Seattle.

Bill C's Wisdom and Statistical Wizardy

Key Returners:

Middle Tennessee State returns several of their touchdown scorers from a year ago.  Leading rushers Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley both return after posting just over 740 and 640 yards last season.  Parker added six touchdowns on the ground to Whatley's three.  The Blue Raider's leading receiver, Marcus Henry also returns.  Offensive tackle Darious Johnson was named to the Pre-Season All-Conference USA First Team.

On defense the Blue Raiders return two Pre-Season Conference USA First Team players.  Linebacker T.T. Barber and safety Kevin Byard both will be on the field.  Byard led the team with five interceptions last season including two that were taken back to the house. Barber added another three of his own. Defensive End  Alexandro Antonine led the team in quarterback hurries last season and will also be relied upon to get some pressure in the backfield this season.

Question Marks??

The major question for the Blue Raiders like the Panthers the week before will be who will play quarterback.  The only quarterback with some experience returning is sophomore Austin Grammer who threw 46 passes for 190 yards last season.  He along with redshirt freshman AJ Erdely and freshman Brent Stockstill all competed in the spring and are still fighting for the starting spot.  We may not know who will start until after the Blue Raider's first game.  Stockstill was originally committed to Cincinnati before deciding to stay home and play for his father, Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill.  All three quarterbacks are mobile and are not afraid to run the ball as well as throw it.

The next question mark is who will be healthy enough to run the ball.  All four of the Blue Raider's leading rushers return, but all four all sat out spring practice while recovering from injury.  Regie Whatley still is not practicing after off-season hip surgery.

It appears MTSU will need to hope that their defense can keep them in games until the offense can get its legs under itself.  While this may be fine against their first opponent, Savannah State, it will be a much tougher task against the Gophers.

What Does It All Mean For Minnesota?

The Gophers will be looking to improve upon the one time they played the Blue Raiders.  They began the 2010 season in Murfreesboro with a 24-17 win that needed the Gophers to score ten consecutive points in the fourth quarter to pull it out.  This game will obviously be at TCF Bank Stadium which is one thing going for Minnesota.  They will need to take advantage of an inexperienced quarterback and put heavy pressure on him hoping to create turnovers with their outstanding secondary.  On offense, the secondary is the best part of the Blue Raider defense as well.  Expect Minnesota to exploit this by running David Cobb often and early.  In fact, don't be surprised if this ends up being Cobb's best game of the season.

Final Analysis:

This is a game the Gophers must win.  They are at this point a much better team, and MTSU has not shown any ability recently to beat quality opponents.  The Gophers will be faster, stronger, have more depth, and just plain better.  The Blue Raiders will have a quarterback either making his first or second career start.  Minnesota will be able to take advantage and get some interceptions.  They will control the game with their running game, and while it may still be relatively tight at the half, the Gophers will use all their superiority to pull away for what should be a worry-free 38-13 victory.