Former Vanderbilt coach and OSU defensive coordinator Derek Mason is the new head coach at Middle Tennessee.

Derek Mason named head coach at Middle Tennessee

Middle Tennessee named Derek Mason as its 15th head football coach in the program’s history on Wednesday.

Mason was signed to a five-year contract. Terms of the deal were not disclosed by the Blue Raiders.

Mason, 54, takes over in place of Rick Stockstill, who was fired on Nov. 27 after 18 seasons at the school. The Blue Raiders finished 4-8 this season and were 113-111 in his tenure with 10 bowl appearances (4-6 record).

“This is an emotional moment for me,” Mason said in a release by the school. “This is the house that Rick Stockstill built and he left good bones and a strong foundation. He did a lot to raise and encourage these young men and help them take the journey. Now, that responsibility has been passed down to me. It’s about winning and making sure we can do everything we can to resource our student athletes in a way to make them successful both on and off the field.

“It’s been an exhausting journey, but I appreciate Dr. (Sidney A.) McPhee and (athletic director) Chris Massaro for giving me this opportunity. Now we have to attack the challenge of Conference USA and I can’t wait to get started.”

Massaro was quick to welcome Mason, who spent seven seasons as head coach of Vanderbilt (2014-20). He also has been a defensive coordinator at Stanford, Auburn and Oklahoma State.

“We are ecstatic to welcome Coach Derek Mason to Middle Tennessee and the Blue Raider football program,” Massaro said. “With his experience as a head coach, his reputation for coaching fast, aggressive defenses, his strong reputation as a recruiter, and deep connections in college football to formulate an outstanding staff, Coach Mason’s vision for MTSU football fits exactly what we were looking for during our interview process. Coach Mason is no stranger to the mid-state community and we expect his connections to allow him and his staff to hit the ground running as our 15th head football coach.”

Mason served as an analyst for the SEC Network in 2023.

–Field Level Media

Sep 9, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Brady Cook (12) punches in for a touchdown against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Missouri hangs on to defeat Middle Tennessee

Brady Cook completed 14-of-19 passes for 204 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another score as Missouri held off Middle Tennessee 23-19 on Saturday in Columbia, Mo.

Nathaniel Peat caught a 49-yard touchdown pass and rushed for 51 yards for Missouri (2-0).

Luther Burden caught eight passes for 117 yards for the Tigers and Cody Schrader gained 84 yards on 23 carries.

Nicholas Vattiato completed 22-of-36 passes for 214 yards and two touchdowns for Middle Tennessee (0-2).

Missouri broke the scoreless tie on its third possession of the game. Peat rushed for 45 yards on five carries and Harrison Mevis hit a 38-yard field goal for a 3-0 lead.

Middle Tennessee marched 86 yards on 14 plays to move ahead 7-3 in the second quarter. Frank Peasant’s 25-yard run was the key play, and Vattiato’s 3-yard touchdown pass to Kalani Norris capped the drive.

The Tigers responded with a 16-play, 71-yard drive to take a 10-7 lead with 24 seconds left in the half. Cook got the possession rolling with a 9-yard pass to Burden, then he capped it with a 1-yard quarterback sneak.

The Blue Raiders opened the second half by moving 68 yards to set up Zeke Rankin’s game-tying 25-yard field goal.

Cook hit Burden on a 44-yard pass play to propel Missouri to an 80-yard drive. Theo Wease caught a 5-yard touchdown pass to put the Tigers up 16-10, but Mevis missed the extra point.

Peat capped an 82-yard drive with a 49-yard touchdown catch and run as the Tigers expanded their lead to 23-10 with 14:53 left to play.

Middle Tennessee cut its deficit to 23-17 with an 84-yard drive, capped by Vattiato’s 13-yard touchdown pass to Justin Olson.

The Blue Raiders got two points closer when Sam Brumfield hit Cook and forced his fumble the through the Missouri end zone for a safety with 6:07 left to play.

Middle Tennessee got the ball with the chance to take the lead, but the Blue Raiders turned the ball over on downs after reaching the Missouri 42.

–Field Level Media

Alabama head football coach Nick Saban speaks to members of the media Sunday, August 6, 2023.

QB question in play as No. 4 Alabama hosts Middle Tennessee

No. 4 Alabama opens the season with a visit from Middle Tennessee on Saturday at Tuscaloosa, Ala., which is when the Crimson Tide might reveal for the first time the identity of the team’s starting quarterback.

Alabama coach Nick Saban is keeping the wraps on who will be the starter after the departure of standout Bryce Young, the No. 1 pick in the 2023 NFL Draft by the Carolina Panthers.

Jalen Milroe is the perceived favorite after throwing five touchdown passes in 53 attempts last season for the Crimson Tide (11-2 in 2022). Ty Simpson and Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner also have been competing for the starting gig.

“I don’t have any expectations for that right now,” Saban said Monday of the quarterback situation. “We’re going one day at a time and we’re repping the players.”

Saban reiterated earlier comments this month that the quarterback competition doesn’t end just because somebody starts Game 1.

Most observers feel Milroe will be first behind center against Middle Tennessee (8-5 last season).

Milroe started against Texas A&M last season when Young was injured and passed for three touchdowns in a 24-20 victory.

Saban said that Milroe has made strides during fall camp.

“I think Jalen has made a significant amount of improvement,” Saban said. “I think he’s more comfortable in the pocket. I think that he has more confidence in the way he executes and the way he plays.”

Simpson completed 4 of 5 passes last season as the third-stringer. Buchner passed for 949 yards, six touchdowns and eight interceptions for the Fighting Irish. He started three games for Notre Dame last season.

On the defensive side, standout linebacker Will Anderson is gone — he was selected No. 3 overall by the Houston Texans — so it is Dallas Turner’s time to be the unit’s leader. Turner has 12 1/2 sacks in two seasons.

Middle Tennessee faces a huge task but it did post a 45-31 upset at No. 25 Miami last season. That was a milestone victory for the Blue Raiders, as it was their first in 22 games against ranked foes since becoming an FBS program in 1999.

Beating the Crimson Tide will be a tough task in the eyes of Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill.

“We’ve got a tremendous challenge and a tremendous opportunity this week with Alabama, one of the best teams in the country,” Stockstill said on Monday. “They lose two games last year by a total of four points and everybody thinks that, you know, the sky is falling down there. It’s a really, really talented team.”

The Blue Raiders won their final four games last season and were victorious in a bowl game for the second straight season.

Nicholas Vattiato is the quarterback after making six starts over the previous two seasons. He has passed for 1,340 yards, seven touchdowns and seven interceptions in eight career games.

“Even with a great opponent like Alabama, we have a great opportunity to go out there and show what we’ve been building,” Vattiato said. “I believe in my guys more than anyone to be able to go out there against some competition and show what we have.

“Not to prove to ourselves, because we all believe in ourselves, but maybe just to prove to other people that we’re here and we’re here to play.”

Alabama has won the previous three meetings. The most recent was a 37-10 victory in 2015.

–Field Level Media

Sep 24, 2022; Miami Gardens, Florida, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders quarterback Chase Cunningham (16) celebrates after throwing a touchdown pass against the Miami Hurricanes during the first half at Hard Rock Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

Chase Cunningham, Middle Tennessee blitz No. 25 Miami

Chase Cunningham passed for 408 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score as the visiting Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders upset the 25th-ranked Miami Hurricanes, 45-31, on Saturday afternoon.

MTSU’s DJ England-Chisolm caught two passes for 169 yards and two scores. Jaylin Lane had four catches for 130 yards, and Elijah Metcalf had one catch for a 69-yard score.

The Hurricanes (2-2), who have lost two straight games, benched star quarterback Tyler Van Dyke in the third quarter in favor of Jake Garcia.

Miami also suffered unspecified injuries to its top two running backs, Henry Parrish Jr. and Jaylan Knighton.

MTSU (3-1) knocked off an ACC team for the first since beating Syracuse in 2017.

The Hurricanes, who lost 17-9 last week to Texas A&M, struggled in the first half on Saturday, extending their streak to five consecutive quarters without a touchdown.

Miami turned the ball over on its first three possessions, falling behind 24-3 in the second quarter. All three turnovers occurred deep in Miami territory.

The Canes finally scored a touchdown on a six-yard near-lateral pass to Henry Parrish Jr. with 1:20 left in the second quarter, cutting the Canes’ deficit to 24-10.

In the third quarter, MTSU took a 31-10 lead on a 69-yard TD pass to Metcalf.

With 7:43 left in the third, Van Dyke was benched in favor of Garcia, who immediately led the Canes to a 72-yard TD drive. The key play was a 39-yard downfield pass to Key’Shawn Smith, which set up Thad Franklin’s one-yard TD run.

On the first play of the fourth quarter, Miami was stopped on a fourth-and-goal incompletion. On the next play, Cunningham hit England-Chisolm on a fly pattern for a 98-yard score.

Smith took the ensuing kickoff for a 91-yard TD return, cutting Miami’s deficit to 38-24.

But MTSU added Frank Peasant’s one-yard TD run with 8:42 left to put the game away.

–Field Level Media

Sep 15, 2018; Toledo, OH, USA; Toledo Rockets head coach Jason Candle looks on during the fourth quarter against the Miami Hurricanes at Glass Bowl. Mandatory Credit: Raj Mehta-USA TODAY Sports

Nicholas Vattiato powers Middle Tennessee past Toledo

Nicholas Vattiato passed for 270 yards and two touchdowns to help Middle Tennessee record a 31-24 victory over Toledo on Friday in the Bahamas Bowl at Nassau, Bahamas.

Jarrin Pierce caught four passes for 114 yards and one score and Yusuf Ali also had a touchdown grab for the Blue Raiders (7-6). Mike DiLiello and Frank Peasant tacked on rushing scores as Conference USA’s Middle Tennessee scored 17 fourth-quarter points to win for the fifth time in its past seven games.

Bryant Roback gained 126 yards on 18 carries to top 100 yards for the sixth straight contest for Toledo (7-6), which had a three-game winning streak halted.

Roback became the fourth Toledo player to top 4,000 career yards. His total sits at 4,026, trailing only Kareem Hunt (4,945), Chester Taylor (4,849) and Wasean Tait (4,338).

Dequan Finn completed 18 of 39 passes for 212 yards, two touchdowns and one interception and also rushed for 83 yards and a score for the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference. Matt Landers caught four passes for 137 yards and a touchdown and DeMeer Blankumsee also had a scoring reception.

Middle Tennessee increased its national-best turnover count to 32 by forcing one. The victory put the Blue Raiders above .500 for just the second time all season — the other was after the season-opening win over FCS program Monmouth.

Toledo outgained the Blue Raiders 447 to 435.

DiLiello, a quarterback, scored on a 17-yard keeper on the first play of the final quarter to give the Blue Raiders a 21-17 lead. Later, Pierce shed the Toledo coverage and was wide open and Vattiato (23 of 35 passing) connected with him for a 59-yard scoring pass to push the lead to 11 with 6:24 remaining.

Just 46 seconds later, Middle Tennessee forced the turnover — the Rockets’ seventh of the entire season. Jordan Ferguson pressured Finn and the fluttering ball was intercepted by Zaylin Wood at the Toledo 23-yard line, setting up a 35-yard field goal by Zeke Rankin for a 31-17 lead.

Finn tossed a 13-yard scoring pass to Blankumsee with 1:08 left to pull Toledo within seven. Ali, however, recovered the ensuing onside kick and the Blue Raiders ran out the clock.

Toledo led 17-14 at halftime after Thomas Cluckey kicked a 32-yard field goal with 1:05 remaining.

Middle Tennessee struck first on Vattiato’s 6-yard scoring pass to Ali with 1:30 left in the opening quarter.

Toledo knotted the score when Finn exploded on a 40-yard run on fourth-and-1 and with 13:52 left in the half. The Rockets moved ahead when Landers made a great grab of Finn’s throw at midfield and turned it into a 90-yard touchdown with 11:11 remaining.

The Blue Raiders tied the score at 14 on Peasant’s 1-yard run with 8:58 left in the half.

–Field Level Media

Sep 3, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA;  Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Braxton Burmeister (3)throws a warmup pass before the game against the North Carolina Tar Heels at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

No. 19 Virginia Tech taking nothing for granted vs. Middle Tennessee

As far as Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente is concerned, the challenge this week is simple.

“Turn the page,” he said.

That’s because the Hokies can’t bask in the laurels of their 17-10 season-opening win over then-No. 10 North Carolina any longer. There’s another game this week as Middle Tennessee comes to Blacksburg, Va., for a Saturday matchup.

And this is the type of game that Virginia Tech, which entered the Associated Press poll Tuesday at No. 19, has tripped up on in recent seasons. More than once after winning a big game against a Top 25 team, it’s followed up with a stupefying loss.

There was a 49-35 defeat at Old Dominion in 2018 less than three weeks after a dominating season-opening win at then-No. 19 Florida State. And a 31-17 loss at lightly regarded Syracuse back in 2016 after the Hokies routed then-17th-ranked North Carolina 34-3 the week before.

That’s why Fuente has an extra sense of urgency this week.

“Just take last week and put it in the bank, put it to the side and focus on our nonconference schedule,” he said. “You play nonconference games for postseason recognition, and it starts with Middle Tennessee this Saturday.”

Regardless of who the Hokies play, if their defense plays as fast and as firm as it did against North Carolina, they’ll give everyone fits. Second-year coordinator Justin Hamilton’s unit looked a lot like a Bud Foster defense, recording six sacks and intercepting Sam Howell three times.

Chamarri Conner recorded the game-clinching interception with 37 seconds left, topping off a performance that saw him record a team-high eight tackles. He was named Atlantic Coast Conference Defensive Back of the Week.

Offensively, Virginia Tech wasn’t spectacular, but did keep the ball for nearly 35 minutes as it got an efficient performance from quarterback Braxton Burmeister. He was 12-of-19 for 169 yards and an 11-yard touchdown pass to tight end James Mitchell late in the second quarter.

Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee opened last week with a 50-15 victory over FCS opponent Monmouth, although the final score doesn’t indicate that the game was competitive for three quarters.

The Blue Raiders never trailed but led just 28-15 early in the fourth quarter before putting the game away with 22 points. They cashed in four turnovers for 27 points and also scored their first touchdown on Jaylin Lane’s 70-yard punt return 16 seconds into the second quarter.

Middle Tennessee used three quarterbacks against Monmouth. Bailey Hockman started and threw a pair of touchdown passes in the last two minutes of the first half to snap a 7-7 tie. The Blue Raiders managed just 360 yards of offense.

Coach Rick Stockstill says this week provides unique obstacles for his team, including a seven-hour bus ride Friday from Murfreesboro, Tenn., to Blacksburg, Va.

“We’ve got to be able to handle that and then be ready for a loud stadium,” he said. “They were extremely loud last week against North Carolina, and we expect the same things this week.”

This will be the first meeting of the programs.

–Field Level Media

Oct 31, 2020; Durham, North Carolina, USA; Charlotte 49ers head coach Will Healy during the first quarter of the game against the Charlotte 49ers at Wallace Wade Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jaylynn Nash-USA TODAY Sports

Charlotte-Middle Tennessee PPD due to COVID-19

Charlotte postponed Saturday’s Conference USA game at Middle Tennessee due to a cluster of COVID-19 cases in the 49ers’ program.

Charlotte athletic director Mike Hill made the announcement Friday and said the schools are hoping to reschedule the contest.

“We are extremely disappointed to have to postpone our game at Middle Tennessee. Our coaching staff and players were looking forward to the Conference USA matchup,” Hill said. “The health and safety of everyone involved, however, remains the top priority during these challenging times.”

It is the fourth game Charlotte has either canceled or postponed.

The next game scheduled for the 49ers (2-3, 2-1 C-USA) is at home against Gardner-Webb on Nov. 14. The Blue Raiders (2-5, 2-3) are set to play the same day at No. 16 Marshall.

On Wednesday, Conference USA rescheduled seven games that were postponed earlier in the season. One of those was Charlotte’s Oct. 17 home game against Florida International that now will be played Dec. 5.

–Field Level Media