The Syracuse Orange (1-0) host the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (0-1) on Saturday for game two of the 2017 college football season. Last week, the Orange beat Central Connecticut, 50-7. But MTSU fell to Vanderbilt, 28-6.
Since we don’t know a ton about the Blue Raiders, we figured we’d ask someone who does. A.J. Grande -- who you should follow on Twitter — from SB Nation’s Underdog Dynasty joins us to discuss everything you’re hoping to learn about MTSU. We also answer some questions over there (and can post a link once those are live).
MTSU's offense typically excels, but Vanderbilt kept them in check on Saturday. Was that a product of a very good Commodores defense, or were the Blue Raiders struggling for their own (separate) reasons?
It was most definitely a mixture of both. We knew coming in that the offensive line would be a weakness for this team. As late as last week, Rick Stockstill has admitted the weakness and inexperience in that group. It will take them some time to figure it out after losing so much experience from last year's group. That, combined with a Vandy defensive line hungry to get to the quarterback, just threw off the whole offense.
Have Middle Tennessee fans observed any advantage in having a father-son duo at coach and quarterback, respectively? Or has it been like any other coach-QB relationship?
Though it may not seem this way, I don't think the fact that they are a father-son duo gives MT any advantage. Obviously, they will have a STRONGER relationship than your normal Coach/QB relationship, but I don't think it gives MT any advantage competitively.
That being said, you probably wouldn't even know they were related if you weren't familiar with the team just based on their relationship on the field. It is all business on the football field and if you talked to both, they would say they prefer it that way.
How has Scott Shafer's defense differed from your previous scheme this offseason, and in game one against Vandy?
Even over the course of Saturday's game, there was a definite improvement from last year's defense. I think the biggest difference I've seen in just one game is the commitment to stopping the run. Holding the Vandy offense to just 71 rushing yards Saturday was a huge improvement from 231 yards in last year's matchup. The defensive front wasn't getting pushed around and did a good job of filling holes before Ralph Webb could get through.
Scott Shafer and the defense also showed the ability to adjust their scheme mid-game (Ed. note: Count me among the VERY surprised to hear this) and be proactive in anticipating plays and be a step ahead. This is a huge point of improvement from last year, where I felt the defense was never able to adapt when needed in the middle of a game.
What elements of Shafer's defenses at Syracuse do you hope come to more prominence this season at MTSU?
In a league like Conference USA, Middle Tennessee needs to have solid pass defense to even have a chance at a championship. I'm really hoping Shafer can bring that to this team and help this team avoid getting burned over the top and just play solid on the back end. It seemed like last season it felt like everyone could throw the ball all around the yard on this defense and it even showed up a little against Vandy, but hopefully Shafer can turn it around in time.
The rushing attack didn't look the same without I'Tavius Mathers on Saturday. How critical was he to the offense, and how are you going about replacing him this year?
The Blue Raiders without a doubt miss Mathers's production from last season along with the offensive line. They were able to open up the offense for Tony Franklin to make defenses pay that dropped into coverage. After losing those pieces this year, the run game will have to find a new identity and look for a leader to step up and start producing. As of right now, that looks like it will be senior Shane Tucker, but could change at any time.
Who's the one unsung player (on either side of the ball) that could make a major impact on this coming game?
He may not be a skill player, but offensive lineman Chandler Brewer can have a huge impact on the result of this game. His experience and leadership on the line is needed badly to help this group protect Brent Stockstill well. If he can continue to help them both leading up to the game and in-game, it might lead to more time for Stockstill to throw and pick apart the Orange defense.
What's your prediction for this weekend?
After the Vandy defeat, Middle was able to identify a lot of problems to work on this week leading up to Syracuse. The defense has to get better in pass coverage and make Eric Dungey make tough throws to even have a chance in this one. On offense, if the line can give Stockstill time to throw and help out the running game. All things considered, the Raiders have more problems to fix than time to fix them for this one.
Syracuse wins 31-21
Thanks again to A.J. for taking the time out to answer these. Be sure to follow him and Underdog Dynasty on Twitter, and head over to the site too for the latest on the Blue Raiders and the rest of the Group of Five.