MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — It’s been a roller coaster season for the banged-up Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders, and Saturday they reached another peak with a 37-17 homecoming win over the FIU Panthers.
The Raiders will try to avoid the plunge that has followed their first two wins in a campaign that has been plagued by injuries including the loss of the team’s two top offensive weapons for multiple games. Quarterback Brent Stockstill hasn’t played since suffering a shoulder injury and a cracked sternum in Middle Tennessee’s 30-23 upset win at Syracuse on September 9.
His star receiver Richie James, meanwhile, has played on sparingly in that same timeframe while nursing a high ankle sprain. Injuries at virtually every other offensive position have only exacerbated the problem.
Still, the Blue Raiders have scratched out two wins with their stars on the sideline, and they’ll have another opportunity at UAB Saturday against a Blazers’ squad that is fielding a team for the first time since 2014. Middle Tennessee shouldn’t count on any easy wins, however, as UAB is 3-2.
Against an FIU team coached by Butch Davis that brought a 3-1 record to Murfreesboro, the Blue Raiders were surprisingly sharp and seemed finally ready to adapt to life without Stockstill and James no matter how long it takes. While the first-quarter was a 3-3 draw, the Blue Raiders won every quarter thereafter and really took control in a 14-0 second quarter that extended the lead to 17-3 at halftime.
Stockstill’s replacement, John Urzua, finally seemed in complete control of the offense completing 25-of-31 passes for 250 yards and a score while finishing the day with no interceptions — a vast improvement over previous turnover-prone outings. It was enough to out-duel a four-year starter in FIU quarterback Alex McGough, arguably the best quarterback in the Panthers’ short history dating back to 2002.
Urzua directed a 7-play, 75-yard drive to open the third quarter that put Middle ahead 24-3. FIU never threw in the towel, but they also would get no closer than 10 points the rest of the way thanks to the big lead by Middle.
While the Blue Raiders are in Birmingham Saturday to take on UAB, FIU will be back at home for an evening contest against Tulane.
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