Middle Tennessee doesn't present the usual guaranteed victory that many FBS programs look to schedule early in the year. Larry Fedora acknowledged this truth during his Monday press conference, pointing out the Blue Raiders' 49-28 upset over Georgia Tech last fall. Head coach Rick Stockstill is in his eighth season with the program and is looking to elevate his team's play ahead of its first league game as a new member of Conference USA.
Middle Tennessee returned 16 starters from its 8-4 campaign in 2012, led by third-year starting quarterback Logan Kilgore and running back Jordan Parker. Parker rushed for a career-high 156 yards and one score on 22 carries in the Blue Raiders' season-opening 45-24 win over Western Carolina. Parker took the opening play 65 yards for a touchdown. Middle Tennessee churned out 475 total yards on 76 plays in building a 28-0 second quarter lead. The Blue Raiders did allow 371 yards, including 257 through the air.
"I don't think it's so much the ACC success we've had, but it's just a matter of playing a good football game, protecting the football and not turning it over and not giving up big plays on the defensive side. If you do that, no matter who you play, you've got a chance to win the game." – Stockstill
"I doubt he'll be 100 percent. He practiced yesterday, but we limited his throws. He'll go again today and we'll increase his throws, but there's no question that Logan (Kilgore) will play and he'll play well." – Stockstill on Kilgore
"I wouldn't think we have anything to be flat about. We have another opponent coming up. We have an opportunity to get a bad taste out of our mouth and that knot out of our stomach and we're playing in the Tar Pit. That's really all it should take." – UNC head coach Larry Fedora
"You need to understand this team that's coming in here they've beaten ACC teams. They did it last year and they've done it before. They're not going to come in here thinking they can't win the football game. We'll have all of our focus on Middle Tennessee. We won't be worried about the bye week or what's coming down the road. It'll be all about Middle Tennessee." – Fedora
UNC's Bryn Renner vs. MTSU's Pass Defense
The Blue Raiders struggled mightily in the secondary in 2012. The defense ranked 90th nationally in pass defense, allowing 252 yards per game, and stood 103rd nationally in pass efficiency defense, which should bode well for Renner. The Tar Heels ranked eighth nationally in scoring offense (40.8 ppg) and 26th in passing offense (291 ypg) in 2012, although the Tar Heels managed just 10 points and 194 passing yards on 43 attempts in their season-opening loss to South Carolina. Stockstill was pleased with his secondary's performance against Western Carolina outside of two long touchdown passes in the second quarter. Renner will likely have more opportunities to throw down the field, which should ease the pressure on the ground and perimeter screen game.
MTSU's Logan Kilgore vs. UNC's Defense
Kilgore played as the expected veteran gunslinger in the Blue Raiders' season opener, racking up 144 yards through the air and tossing a touchdown. He suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter and sat out the remainder of the game, but he will play on Saturday, according to Stockstill. The fifth-year senior completed 63.6 percent of his passes and threw for 2,571 yards in 2012. UNC's defense struggled to stop the big plays against South Carolina and will look to fix that lingering issue against the Blue Raiders. Senior defensive end Kareem Martin expects the similar offensive philosophy employed by Middle Tennessee to look familiar and provide opportunities for the game-changing plays that were absent last Thursday.