MTSU beat writer Aldo Amato breaks down the Blue Raiders

Before each Illinois football game, Illini Inquirer will ask five questions of an opposing beat writer. This week, we talked with Aldo Amato of the (Murfreesboro, Tenn.) Daily News Journal to preview the Illini's Week 4 nonconference finale against Middle Tennessee State.

1. Middle Tennessee State's offense ranks seventh in the FBS in scoring offense (51 ppg). They put up 70 against Jackson State and 73 against Charlotte. How much stock can we put in those numbers?

I think that number will drop but they run a fast, no-huddle system and seem to be in a better grove with Brent Stockstill behind center. He can throw the ball downfield with strength and accuracy allowing the offense to have more weapons available. Again, that number will drop but if Stockstill continues to play at a high level, they are capable of scoring at least 40 points per game.

2. What makes that MTSU offense so dangerous? What schemes should Illinois fans expect and who are the playmakers?

They run fast and once they get the first first down, it’s hard to keep up with them. Like I said above, Brent Stockstill is  the key when it comes to decision making. The Blue Raiders love to run bubble screens and bring a man in motion to confuse opposing defenses. But Stockstill has opened up the passing game from the pocket to receivers such as Ed Batties and Richie James.

3. What are the strengths and weaknesses of the MTSU defense?

Their biggest strength is the secondary. Playmakers like safety Kevin Byard and newcomer Jeremy Cutrer (who has three interceptions, a blocked field goal and a fumble recovery) have made it one of the best secondary’s in Conference USA. The biggest weakness has been giving up big plays on either busted coverage or the inability to keep up with opposing teams’ athleticism.

4. MTSU is 0-5 vs. Big Ten opponents but have been competitive recently, losing their last three Big Ten games by a combined 21 points. What are the keys to the Blue Raiders finally getting over the hump and pulling off the upset?

I know I sound like a broken record here but MTSU is a team that lives and dies by the tempo. That is how they’ve gained the upper hand early. This week will be a test against Illinois’ stout defense. But if the Blue Raiders are able to play fast for more than a half, they should be able to keep the tempo in their favor which allows Brent Stockstill to settle in and get the ball to his playmakers.

5. Vegas lists the Blue Raiders as just a six-point underdog in a Big Ten stadium. Is Vegas on the money here? How do you see this one going down (score prediction, please)?

I’d expect that number to drop before kickoff because of MTSU’s recent success on offense. I see MTSU winning 30-17 and finally getting their first win vs. the Big Ten. More importantly, it would give them another win heading into their homecoming matchup with Vanderbilt next week.  

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