Blue Raiders fall flat in 44-0 rout

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders entered Saturday's game in Tiger Stadium with hope and encouragement.

Just a week earlier against the then No. 8 team in the country, the Blue Raiders scored 42 points and gained 555 yards in a 58-42 loss at Louisville.


But, the hope and encouragement left the Blue Raider squad before the end of the first quarter against LSU and perhaps the saving grace of Saturday's 44-0 thrashing at the hands of second-ranked Tigers is that it was the last game before the Blue Raiders get the chance to play in their home stadium for the first time this season.


Middle Tennessee, who fell to 0-3 overall with the loss, managed just 90 yards of total offense against a LSU defense that has proven three times this season it is arguably the nation's best. A week after passing for 290 yards, Blue Raider quarterback Joe Craddock was held to just six completions in 11 passes for 59 yards by LSU.


A week after running for 144 yards, Blue Raider tailback Phillip Tanner managed just two yards against the Tigers on six carries.


Meanwhile, LSU, playing without its starting quarterback and best wide receiver, gained 505 total yards.


Blue Raider Head Coach Rick Stockstill said he had no issue with the way his team played it was simply overmatched in every phase.


"LSU is just too strong, too physical," Stockstill said. "I don't think we made a lot of mistakes out there. I think we ran into a very good football team, a team that in my opinion doesn't have any weaknesses."


Middle Tennessee didn't make a lot of mistakes. The only two glaring mistakes made Saturday night by either team were two turnovers by LSU in the second quarter that gave the Blue Raiders good field position and perhaps a chance to score.


The Blue Raiders claimed their first turnover with 11:47 to play in the first half when linebacker Dana Stewart intercepted Tiger quarterback Ryan Perrilloux at the Middle Tennessee 38 yard line. Stewart returned the picked off pass to the LSU 44, giving his team a chance to cut into a LSU lead that was just 10-0 at the time.


But, Middle Tennessee ran just four plays and picked up seven yards before turning the ball over on downs at the LSU 37.


Promise turned to despair on the very next play as Perrilloux delivered a 62-yard bomb to Demetrius Byrd to extend LSU's lead to 17-0.


Less than two minutes later, LSU gave Middle Tennessee another chance near midfield when tight end Keith Zinger fumbled a six-yard catch that was covered by cornerback Alex Suber at the Blue Raider 49.


After moving forward one yard on the ensuing drive's first play, the Blue Raiders moved backwards on its last, with Craddock taking a 15-yard loss on a sack by blitzing safety Danny McCray.


"They (LSU) definitely turned up the heat once we got turnovers on our side of the field," Craddock said. "They turned up the heat on defense and came after us and made some good plays."


LSU's defense didn't respond only after turnovers. It "turned up the heat" on every Blue Raider drive, holding Middle Tennessee to just nine first downs. After picking up three first downs in its first drive, the Blue Raider offense didn't gain another first down until the end of the third quarter, after Craddock had been lifted in favor of freshman Dwight Dasher.


Dasher, the more fleet-footed of the two, fared little better passing the ball, but was able to lead his team in rushing with a still paltry 30 net yards on 12 carries. The Blue Raiders had just nine total yards of rushing for the contest.


Dasher led Middle Tennessee on its best two drives, moving 34 yards in eight plays near the end of the third quarter and 34 yards in 11 plays near the end of the game. Both drives were stopped when Dasher was sacked for big losses in LSU territory, knocking the Blue Raiders out of scoring range.  


"They've got a good defense, probably the best in the country," Craddock said, after being sacked four times in the first half. "It's definitely the best I've ever played against. They've got a good front four and their secondary is solid and their linebackers are fast and very physical."


Fortunately for Middle Tennessee, its next opponent, and probably none of its remaining opponents, will be as physically overpowering as the Tigers. Unfortunately, the Blue Raiders have little time to recover from Saturday's domination as Western Kentucky travels to Murfreesboro to play Thursday night.


Middle Tennessee is the defending Sun Belt Conference champion, but began defense of that title inauspiciously with a 27-14 loss to conference foe Florida Atlantic in the season's first game. The Blue Raiders have plenty of opportunities to rebound from that loss as they close the season with five-consecutive conference games.


Stockstill said he hopes the lessons and humility learned from playing two top-10 ranked teams early in the season will give his team a better chance to represent the Sun Belt Conference in the Music City Bowl for the second-straight year once this season come to a close.


"I told the team afterward I thought we got better," he said. "I know when you look at it 44-0 you can say ‘how can we improve.' But I thought we got better. It's just hard for that to show up when you play a team the caliber of LSU."  

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