Vandy Opponent Preview: MTSU

By now we all know that the media and the public outside Nashville don’t think much of the ‘Dores chances in 2015. The SEC is going to be a beast once again and while there are a couple of games in these which could be winnable if Vanderbilt plays to the high end of their potential there are certainly no gimmes.

That is why this date with Middle Tennessee State on the first weekend in October is essentially a must win for the Commodores and head coach Derek Mason.

2014 Record: 6-6 (5-3 C-USA. Second in C-USA East) – Bowl eligible but not invited.

Series Record: In the series between the two schools Vanderbilt holds a winning record with 12 wins and three losses. The first game in the series was played all the way back in 1915 and finished with a 51-0 win for Vanderbilt in Nashville. Vandy actually won the first 12 games of the series, with the last of those games being played in 1956. The teams then played three games from 2001 to 2005 with MTSU winning them all.

Last Meeting: Middle Tennessee State rode a 14 point second quarter to beat the ‘Dores 17-15 at Vanderbilt Stadium. This early October clash saw Jay Cutler throw for 245 yards with one touchdown and one interception as neither team could do much on offense in a lackluster contest. Late in the fourth quarter MTSU blocked a short field goal to escape with a win.

Head Coach: Rick Stockstill is entering his tenth year as the Blue Raiders head coach and he has put together a win/loss record of 57-55 (0.509). MTSU is the only head coaching job Stockstill has ever had and he is 1-3 in bowl games with the Blue Raiders having won the 2009 New Orleans Bowl over Southern Miss.

Spring News: MTSU came out of the spring healthy, with no major injuries after the 15 spring practices which concluded with the traditional Blue/White game. The biggest key entering the spring was cutting down on the big plays which hurt the Blue Raiders a year ago. With an improved level of fitness, and a new gang tackling mentality, the coaches believe they have seen enough for this to be a factor in the fall.

Projected Strengths: The Blue Raiders lost their starting running back from a year ago, but there is plenty returning with experience in the backfield. Jordan Parker, Shane Tucker and Jeremiah Bryson have combined for over 3,600 rushing yards and 39 total touchdowns during their collegiate careers and a running back by committee approach will help showcase the strengths and hide the weaknesses of this group. Also watch for talented freshmen power back J’Vonte Herrod to enter the mix by the time of the Vanderbilt game.

The Blue Raiders running backs will love playing behind the offensive line which Stockstill has put together in Murfreesboro. MTSU has a three-year starting left tackle and five other players on the potential line rotation who have racked up 40 career starts entering the season. The depth on this line is impressive for a smaller conference school as big time prospects on the line are buried on it. Juniors and seniors upped their game with the increased competition for spots.

Projected Weaknesses: As the old adage goes, if you have to play two quarterbacks it is because neither is good enough to win the job. Entering the spring incumbent starter junior Austin Grammer, the better runner, and redshirt freshman and son of the head coach Brent Stockstill, the better passer, were level. Exiting the spring they were still level as neither did enough to distance the other with their play. Grammer probably has the inside track, but he can be turnover prone and his arm cannot stretch the field. Unless one of the two hits the ground running in the fall this will be a position of weakness for MTSU.

After being good against the pass and awful against the run a year ago, the defensive philosophy seems to have changed. Players have added bulk, especially at the defensive tackle position, but the team is crying out for an edge runner to step up and apply pressure on the quarterback. This is an area where the Blue Raiders have been deficient for a number of years now and unless something changes entering the fall it looks like it will be an issue once again in 2015.

Prediction: The Blue Raider have been bowl eligible for five of the last six seasons, so the pedigree and coaching is there to give Vanderbilt some problems if the ‘Dores don’t show up. After being humbled by lesser opposition last year, this is a huge game for Mason to prove the naysayers wrong and I expect his defense to have a huge day against a couple of quarterbacks who will keep MTSU from reaching their potential. This game has to be a Vandy win if Mason wants to be coaching in Nashville in 2016 and he knows it. This will be a reasonable comfortable Vandy win.

Commodores Daily Top Stories