Middle Tennessee head football coach Rick Stockstill on the sidelines during the football game against Louisiana Tech in Floyd Stadium at Middle Tennessee, in Murfreesboro, Tenn. on Tuesday, Oct. 10, 2023.

Middle Tennessee fires Rick Stockstill after 18 seasons

Middle Tennessee fired football coach Rick Stockstill after 18 seasons on Monday.

The Blue Raiders finished 4-8 this season and were 113-111 in his tenure with 10 bowl appearances (4-6 record).

“This is one of the most difficult days in my tenure, but one I feel is necessary in our aspiration to compete and win championships,” athletic director Chris Massaro said in a news release. “I appreciate everything Rick, his wife Sara, and their family have done the last 18 years for MTSU Athletics, our football program, and, more importantly, our student-athletes. Because of his leadership, our student-athletes have performed at a high level in the classroom, have dedicated time and energy to supporting our community and have given us countless hours of dedication to being successful on the football field. I want to thank Coach Stockstill for his professionalism, character and dedication, and wish him well in his future endeavors.”

The school said a national search for Stockstill’s replacement will begin immediately.

Stockstill, 65, was hired in December 2005 after working as an assistant coach at South Carolina, East Carolina, Clemson, UCF and Bethune-Cookman.

He was named the Sun Belt Coach of the Year in 2006 and 2009 and earned the same honor in Conference USA in 2018.

Stockstill’s best season came in 2009 when he guided Middle Tennessee to a 10-3 record and a New Orleans Bowl win. The Blue Raiders were 8-5 with a Hawaii Bowl victory in 2022.

–Field Level Media

Aug 31, 2023; Columbia, Missouri, USA; Missouri Tigers quarterback Brady Cook (12) throws a pass against the South Dakota Coyotes during the first half at Faurot Field at Memorial Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Its QB battle over, Missouri faces Middle Tennessee next

Missouri coach Eliah Drinkwitz allowed his quarterback competition to extend into the season, but it appears settled now.

Incumbent Brady Cook excelled as Missouri handled visiting South Dakota 35-10 in its opener.

Cook figures to take the leading role Saturday when the Tigers (1-0) of the Southeastern Conference welcome Middle Tennessee (0-1) of Conference USA to Columbia, Mo.

Cook completed 17 of 21 passes for 172 yards and a touchdown while playing just the first half. He also had a 15-yard scoring run.

Sam Horn played the second half and completed 3 of 5 passes for 54 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

“Brady scored 28,” Drinkwitz told SEC Network. “And Sam scored seven. So, that’s my initial thoughts. We will go back and look at the tape and see what it was. But, at the end of the day, we are judged on who gets the team in the end zone the most.”

Cody Schrader rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown behind the zone blocking scheme implemented by new Missouri offensive coordinator Kirby Moore.

The Tigers will seek improvement in their kicking game after Harrison Mevis missed field goal tries from 48 and 34 yards.

“That’s something that’s got to get corrected in a hurry,” Drinkwitz said.

Middle Tennessee is coming off a 56-7 loss to Alabama. The Blue Raiders hung tough well into the second quarter, but they buckled after Zeke Rankin missed a 32-yard field goal that would have cut their deficit to 14-3.

“I was proud of our team and how we fought, how we competed extremely hard,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “When you play teams like this, you gotta play perfect, and we didn’t play perfect. But I like our team. I told them … we’re gonna have a heck of a team this year, heck of a year.”

Quarterback Nicholas Vattiato completed 21 of 32 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown against Alabama. He also had a 30-yard run.

But the Crimson Tide held the Blue Raiders to 78 rushing yards on 26 carries and outgained them 431-211 overall.

“We just got to make corrections where we made mistakes and get ready for another really good SEC team,” Stockstill said.

–Field Level Media

Sep 2, 2023; Tuscaloosa, Alabama, USA;  Alabama Crimson Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe (4) throws behind a block by offensive lineman JC Latham (65) against the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders during the first half at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary Cosby Jr.-USA TODAY Sports

QB Jalen Milroe, No. 4 Alabama crush Middle Tennessee

Jalen Milroe became the first Alabama player to throw three touchdown passes and rush for two scores in the same game and the No. 4 Crimson Tide rolled to a 56-7 victory over Middle Tennessee in the season opener for both teams on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

Alabama coach Nick Saban was silent all week about the identity of his starting quarterback and Milroe loudly stated his case by completing 13 of 18 passes for 194 yards and adding 48 on the ground. Milroe has thrown three touchdown passes in each of his two career starts.

Isaiah Bond, Jermaine Burton and Amari Niblack caught touchdown passes as the Crimson Tide won their 17th straight home opener under Saban. Jaylen Key recorded an interception for Alabama.

Nicholas Vattiato completed 21 of 32 passes for 127 yards, one touchdown and one interception for the Blue Raiders. Middle Tennessee fell to 1-22 against ranked foes since becoming an FBS program in 1999.

The Crimson Tide outgained the Blue Raiders 431 to 211.

Alabama’s first touchdown came on a broken play in the first quarter in which the shotgun snap was low and skidded past Milroe. He picked up the ball at the Middle Tennessee 32-yard line and broke a few tackles en route to a 21-yard scoring run.

Jase McClellan scored from the 1 with 4:15 left in the quarter to give the Crimson Tide a 14-0 lead.

Milroe scored on a 13-yard keeper with 3:07 remaining in the first half. Just 69 seconds later, he tossed a 47-yard scoring pass to Bond to make it 28-0.

Milroe threw two touchdown passes in the third quarter, first connecting with Burton on a 47-yarder with 12:54 left in the period. He later hit Niblack on a 29-yard score with 10:25 left to make it 42-0 before exiting the contest.

Middle Tennessee got on the board with 32 seconds left in the third quarter when Vattiato threw a 7-yard scoring pass to Bryce Bailey.

Notre Dame transfer Tyler Buchner, who replaced Milroe, scored on a 9-yard run with 10:38 remaining in the game. Buchner completed 3 of 5 passes for 27 yards.

Ty Simpson, the third quarterback in the Alabama competition, scored on a 1-yard sneak with 5:58 left. He completed his lone pass for 5 yards.

–Field Level Media

Dec 24, 2022; Honolulu, HI, USA; San Diego State Aztecs defensive lineman Jonah Tavai (66) chases down Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders quarterback Chase Cunningham (16) for a sack during the first quarter at Ching Complex. Mandatory Credit: Steven Erler-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Tennessee edges San Diego State on late FG in Hawaii Bowl

Zeke Rankin’s fourth field goal of the game, a 37-yarder with 2:05 left, lifted Middle Tennessee to a 25-23 win over San Diego State on Saturday in the Hawaii Bowl in Honolulu.

Rankin’s kick capped a 55-yard drive that enabled the Blue Raiders (8-5) to win their fourth straight game after trailing by two touchdowns before the first quarter ended. Middle Tennessee’s defense clinched the win by forcing their fifth turnover of the game on a botched hook-and-lateral play at the Aztecs 43 with 55 seconds left.

Chase Cunningham completed 26 of 43 passes for 236 yards and two touchdowns with an interception for the Blue Raiders. He survived a pass rush that sacked him seven times for 76 yards. Middle Tennessee won despite rushing for negative 66 yards and gaining only 170 total yards.

Jalen Mayden was 19 of 43 for 309 yards with two touchdowns and three picks for San Diego State (7-6). The Aztecs managed just three field goals after the first quarter but led 23-22 after Jack Browning connected from 52 yards out with 5:43 remaining in the game.

Jaylin Lane caught 10 passes for 111 yards and a score for the Blue Raiders.

San Diego State dominated the first quarter, using a passing game that improved dramatically over the season’s second half after Mayden was installed at quarterback.

He hit Mark Redman with a 9-yard touchdown pass at the 7:18 mark, then found Kenan Christon with a short pass that became a 73-yard scoring strike just over 2 1/2 minutes later and gave the Aztecs a 14-0 lead.

But Middle Tennessee then found traction on both sides of the ball, even though it couldn’t protect Cunningham from San Diego State’s rush line. It hit the board on a 44-yard field goal by Rankin just over three minutes into the second quarter.

Cunningham cut it to 14-10 on an 8-yard touchdown pass to defensive end Jordan Ferguson with 3:14 left in the first half and Rankin connected from 49 yards with 22 seconds remaining, slicing the Blue Raiders’ deficit to a point at halftime.

–Field Level Media

Nov 26, 2022; San Diego, California, USA; San Diego State Aztecs wide receiver Brionne Penny (11) runs with the ball as Air Force Falcons linebacker Alec Mock (40) prepares to punch the ball during the second half at Snapdragon Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Orlando Ramirez-USA TODAY Sports

San Diego St., Middle Tenn. to battle in Hawaii Bowl

San Diego State and Middle Tennessee will meet in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24, the bowl game announced Monday.

The Aztecs (7-5) of the Mountain West are in a bowl game for the 12th time in 13 seasons, with the shortened 2020 COVID-19 season marking the lone miss.

“I’m excited that we get a chance to play one more time for our seniors,” San Diego State head coach Brady Hoke said in a news release. “I’m proud of the way our team has fought through adversity this year and to make another bowl game is a testament to their dedication and hard work. We’re looking forward to a playing a tough Middle Tennessee team and to spend a week in Hawaii.”

Middle Tennessee (7-5) of Conference USA has won its past three games. The Blue Raiders are in a bowl for the sixth time in the past eight seasons.

“I am extremely happy and proud for our team and especially our seniors that they can experience a bowl as prestigious at the Hawaii Bowl,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stocksill said in a news release. “This will be an incredible experience for them, and they are very deserving considering all the adversity and accomplishments they have fought through and achieved this year. We are very excited for this opportunity and we can’t wait to get there and experience the Hawaiian culture.”

San Diego State and Middle Tennessee have never met.

This is the second bowl matchup to be officially announced. Miami (Ohio) and UAB will meet in the Bahamas Bowl on Dec. 16.

–Field Level Media

Ball State faces off against Toledo at Scheumann Stadium Saturday, Sept. 25, 2021.

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Turnovers will be front of mind as Toledo battles Middle Tennessee in Bahamas Bowl

Toledo guards the football better than any team in the country, while nobody unearths the pigskin better than Middle Tennessee.

Football protection will be a key component on Friday afternoon when the Rockets (7-5) battle Middle Tennessee (6-6) in the Bahamas Bowl at Nassau, Bahamas.

Toledo leads the nation by committing just six turnovers (two interceptions, four fumbles), while the Blue Raiders have forced a nation-best 31 (16 interceptions, 15 fumbles).

Even while being stingy with the football, the Rockets of the Mid-American Conference had to win three straight games and four of their past five to reach a bowl game for the first time since 2018. The destination was the Bahamas Bowl that time too, with the Rockets falling 35-32 to Florida International.

Toledo averaged 43.2 points over the five-game run with star running back Bryant Koback topping 100 rushing yards in each contest. Koback ranks 11th nationally with 1,274 yards and is exactly 100 yards away from becoming the fourth Toledo player to reach 4,000 career rushing yards.

“We would be crazy after going through the last year and a half and taking anything for granted,” Rockets coach Jason Candle said, referencing the COVID-19 situation. “We aren’t taking this opportunity lightly. We’re going to respect this opportunity with great detail and put our best foot forward and try to win a football game.”

Toledo’s top effort of the season may have come in a loss on Sept. 11. The Rockets were winning late at then-No. 7 Notre Dame before the Fighting Irish scored with 1:09 left to pull out a 32-29 victory.

That close call didn’t spur on the Rockets, who were sitting at a disappointing 4-5 prior to the three-game winning streak to conclude the regular season.

“Three conference losses by a total of eight points, I think when those things happen, you have a couple of choices,” Candle said. “You can fold and go one way or you rally together and go a totally different direction.”

The November push earned Toledo the date with Middle Tennessee, a Conference USA program that has been above .500 just once all season — when it won its opener against FCS program Monmouth.

The Blue Raiders went 4-2 over the second half of the season and qualified for bowl consideration with a 27-17 victory over Florida Atlantic on Nov. 27.

Middle Tennessee also had to throw freshman quarterback Nick Vattiato into the mix after previous starter Chase Cunningham suffered a season-ending leg injury against Southern Miss on Oct. 30.

“This team went through so much adversity throughout the course of the year,” Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill said. “We went through four quarterbacks. We never really found a rhythm offensively. Games 3 and 4 after the Virginia Tech game (a 35-14 loss), we had 13 players out those two weeks because of injuries and other health issues.

“It sounds like an excuse. It’s not, it’s a fact. We just played more consistently (in the second half). We had more continuity. I feel like we’re close to breaking loose offensively.”

Middle Tennessee has a standout punt returner in Jaylin Lane, who led the nation with a 16.9 average. He also returned one for a touchdown.

Standout safety Reed Blankenship led the Blue Raiders with 100 tackles and three fumble recoveries and cornerback Quincy Riley had a team-best five interceptions.

Now the defensive task is to try to force the Rockets to cough up the ball or throw an errant pass.

“They’re very efficient offensively,” Stockstill said of Toledo. “It’s a very balanced team.”

Middle Tennessee is playing in its first bowl game since losing 45-13 to Appalachian State in the 2018 New Orleans Bowl.

–Field Level Media

Oct 22, 2021; East Hartford, Connecticut, USA; Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders wide receiver Izaiah Gathings (2) celebrates after scoring against the Connecticut Huskies in the first half at Rentschler Field at Pratt & Whitney Stadium. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Middle Tennessee won’t leave C-USA for MAC

Middle Tennessee State has decided to remain in Conference USA after all.

The school was mulling a jump to the Mid-American Conference after C-USA lost eight members to realignment. But with four recent additions to C-USA beginning in 2023, the university located in Murfreesboro, Tenn., has decided to stay put.

“With the addition of four new members, C-USA offers a strong footprint in the South and Southwest, providing opportunities to develop new regional rivalries, while staying connected to traditional opponents that our fans want,” MTSU president Sidney McPhee said in the statement. “Working with our four remaining members, as well as our new partners, Conference USA is poised to rebrand itself as a premier conference in the Group of 5.”

Joining C-USA 2023 will be Jacksonville State, Liberty, New Mexico State and Sam Houston State.

The conference lost Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, North Texas, Rice, UAB and UTSA to the American Athletic Conference, while Marshall and Southern Miss are joining the Sun Belt.

Conference USA’s Western Kentucky is still reportedly considering moving to the MAC.

–Field Level Media

Sep 11, 2021; Blacksburg, Virginia, USA;  Virginia Tech Hokies quarterback Braxton Burmeister (3) runs the ball against Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders defensive lineman Zaylin Wood (96) during the second quarter at Lane Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ryan Hunt-USA TODAY Sports

Raheem Blackshear’s 2 late TDs lead No. 19 Virginia Tech

Raheem Blackshear rushed for two second-half touchdowns Saturday as No. 19 Virginia Tech broke a close game open and cruised to a 35-14 non-conference decision over Middle Tennessee in Blacksburg, Va.

Blackshear capped drives with 6- and 1-yard runs that gave the Hokies (2-0) a four-touchdown advantage. It capped a stretch that saw Virginia Tech score on its first three possessions of the second half.

The Hokies’ defense also played another strong game. After notching six sacks and three interceptions in last week’s 17-10 win over then-No. 10 North Carolina, they limited the Blue Raiders (1-1) to just 66 yards on 36 rushes and registered three sacks.

Quarterback Braxton Burmeister completed 14 of 24 passes for 142 yards and a touchdown for Virginia Tech. The Hokies finished with 383 total yards, 224 of them on the ground. Blackshear’s 54 yards led a balanced rushing attack.

Middle Tennessee starting quarterback Bailey Hockman was good on 19 of 32 passes for 207 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Backup Chase Cunningham completed 7 of 8 for 76 yards and a score in the final minute.

The Hokies took a 7-0 lead when Burmeister hit Tayvion Robinson on a 6-yard scoring strike with 21 seconds left in the first quarter, finishing a 17-play, 79-yard drive that lasted 7:36.

Connor Blumrick’s 2-yard run with 8:54 remaining in the second quarter upped the margin to 14-0. The Blue Raiders sliced the deficit in half as Hockman found CJ Windham for a 5-yard touchdown at the 5:17 mark.

But Virginia Tech pulled away in the second half as its offense found a rhythm. Jalen Holston ripped off a 29-yard scoring jaunt with 7:55 left in the third quarter, followed by Blackshear’s consecutive touchdowns.

Cunningham’s 6-yard scoring strike to Marquel Tinsley with 30 seconds remaining in the game made the final margin a bit closer.

The Hokies converted 7 of 12 third downs and played a clean game, drawing just three penalties for 26 yards.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2020; Huntington, West Virginia, USA; The Marshall Thundering Herd mascot celebrates during the fourth quarter against the Massachusetts Minutemen at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

No. 16 Marshall trounces Middle Tennessee State, 42-14

Freshman quarterback Grant Wells threw for 336 yards and five touchdowns Saturday as No. 16 Marshall pulled away from Middle Tennessee State in the third quarter for a 42-14 Conference USA win at Edwards Stadium in Huntington, W.Va.

Wells completed 25 of 37 passes with no interceptions as the Thundering Herd improved to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in the conference. Marshall outgained the Blue Raiders (2-6, 2-4) 520-303, despite running back Brenden Knox being held to a season-low 70 yards on 16 carries.

Sophomore quarterback Asher O’Hara hit on 29 of 44 passes for 241 yards with a touchdown for Middle Tennessee and also led the team in rushing with 39 yards and a score on 11 carries. But his efforts weren’t enough for the Blue Raiders to solve one of the nation’s top defenses.

Wells gave the Herd an early lead with a 3-yard touchdown pass to Willie Johnson at the 7:18 mark of the first quarter.

O’Hara led a game-tying 73-yard scoring drive early in the second quarter, aided by consecutive Marshall penalties that bailed Middle Tennessee out of third-and-10. O’Hara finished it with a 4-yard touchdown strike to Jarrin Pierce.

However, Marshall struck late in the half with two scores. Two plays after hitting Johnson with a 44-yard pass to the 5, Wells found Hayden Hagler for a 1-yard touchdown with 3:08 remaining. Wells then cashed in on a short field created by a strip-sack, driving the team 47 yards and hitting Corey Gammage with a 17-yard strike 32 seconds before intermission.

The lead increased to 28-7 on Wells’ 28-yard pass to Gammage 3:28 into the third quarter. O’Hara scored on a 2-yard run at the 6:51 mark to get the Blue Raiders within 14 points, but the Herd added a 26-yard touchdown jaunt by Sheldon Evans and Wells’ 23-yard scoring pass to Johnson.

Marshall wore all-black uniforms and the number 75 on its helmets to commemorate the 50-year anniversary of the plane crash that killed 75 people on Nov. 14, 1970, on a flight home from a game at East Carolina.

–Field Level Media

Nov 7, 2020; Huntington, West Virginia, USA; Marshall Thundering Herd players celebrate after defeating the Massachusetts Minutemen at Joan C. Edwards Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Ben Queen-USA TODAY Sports

Marshall set to host MTU on anniversary of crash

Nov. 14 will always live in Marshall football infamy.

But on the 50th anniversary of the plane crash that killed 75 people, including nearly the entire roster and coaching staff, the Thundering Herd will try to give their fans a better memory of the day.

Ranked 16th this week, Marshall looks to improve to 7-0 when it hosts Conference USA foe Middle Tennessee on Saturday in Huntington, W. Va. The Thundering Herd, 3-0 in conference play, are coming off a 51-10 rout last week against overmatched Massachusetts.

Minutes after that game ended, Marshall coach Doc Holliday gave his players a quick history lesson on the importance of playing on Nov. 14.

“This is the most important game we play all year,” he said. “It’s not even close. They understand that next Saturday, it’s a game you better prepare harder than you’ve ever prepared. This game means more to our community, fan base and school than any game you’ll play all year.

“When you put that ’75’ on your helmet and put on that black jersey and black pants, you better be ready to go play.”

The Herd have been on point all year, relying on an experienced offensive line and a stout defense to cruise through most of their games. All their wins have been by double figures, although the only one that really moved the needle nationally was a 17-7 verdict Sept. 19 over then-No. 23 Appalachian State.

The Minutemen got the entire Marshall offense thrown at them last week. Brenden Knox ran for 118 yards, the fifth straight game he’s gone over 100. Freshman quarterback Grant Wells hit on 21 of 30 passes for 228 yards and three touchdowns. And the Marshall defense steadied after a rough first quarter, ceding just 190 yards and 12 first downs for the day.

Meanwhile, Middle Tennessee (2-5, 2-3) has been idle since Oct. 24, when it survived Rice 40-34 in double overtime. That game was most notable for the Owls’ decision to play for a 44-yard field goal attempt in the first OT — and then the kick bounced off both uprights and the crossbar (twice) before landing in the end zone: A “quadruple doink.”

Quarterback Asher O’Hara made the Blue Raiders’ flight from Houston a happy one, however, winning the game with a 14-yard touchdown run. O’Hara has been the star of the Middle Tennessee offense this year, throwing for 1,509 yards and 11 scores while rushing for a team-high 476 yards and six touchdowns. He’s been responsible for 17 of the Blue Raiders’ 23 touchdowns.

Middle Tennessee’s game scheduled for last week against Charlotte was postponed because of COVID-19 cases and contact tracing in the 49ers’ program. The teams are aiming to reschedule the game in December.

Blue Raiders coach Rick Stockstill calls the recent circumstances surrounding his team unique.

“We’ve had a good couple of weeks,” he said. “It’s not an advantage, because we didn’t spend any extra time working on Marshall … but it is what it is. You can’t control it.”

Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series 4-3, including a 24-13 decision last year in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

–Field Level Media