Sunday, August 31, 2014

RAIDERS OPEN 100TH SEASON IN DOMINATING FASHION

Middle Tennessee strung together an impressive performance to stifle Savannah State 61-7 in the Raiders' 100th season-opener at Floyd Stadium on Saturday.

The Raiders (1-0) produced 519 yards of offense and limited the Tigers on defense to 219 yards. The Raiders' 61 points and 54-point margin was the largest ever in a season-opener. The previous record occurred in 1954 when MT put up 52 against Stewart Air Force Base.

Despite rainy conditions throughout the game, the Raiders jumped out early marching down the field 75 yards to take a 6-0 lead. MT added 28 more points in the first half to take a 34-0 lead.

Redshirt junior Austin Grammer had a stellar debut as starter, completing 15-of-17 passes for 88.2 percent, which matched the second-best in school history. Grammer threw passes of 50 and 47 yards, respectively. The Tuscaloosa, Alabama native finished with 250 yards and a touchdown.

MT used its strong corps of receivers as five different players had 30-plus yards. Marcus Henry totaled 84 yards, including a 47-yard catch from Grammer. Ed'Marques Batties caught four passes for 42 yards. Junior tailback Jordan Parker had the longest catch of the day in the first quarter, reeling in a 50-yard strike from Grammer.

The Raiders had nine different backs tote the pigskin, netting 228 yards and six rushing touchdowns. Jeremiah Bryson and Shane Tucker posted two touchdowns each. Reggie Whatley added 65 yards, while Tony Rowland connected on 63.

Defensively, the Raiders forced two fumbles and picked up an interception. Trey Wafford returned a 20-yard fumble for a touchdown in the third quarter. In the first half, Kevin Byard picked up his 10th career interception, which tied him for seventh in program history.

Linebacker Quay Watt led the Blue Raider defense with seven stops. Leighton Gasque and Shaquille Huff each added a sack, while T.T. Barber posted two tackles-for-loss.
On the opening drive, sophomore Shane Tucker barreled through for a 13-yard touchdown to give MT a six-point edge. The Raiders subsequently missed the two-point conversion. Grammer found Parker for a 50-yard strike on the Blue Raiders second drive of the day. It would set up a five-yard touchdown pass from Grammer to Tucker. Erdely ran in the third touchdown of the day with a three-yard scamper up the middle, giving MT a 20-point edge.

In the third quarter, the Raiders blocked their 49th kick in the Rick Stockstill era when Raynard Felton rejected a field goal. It marked the first blocked field goal since 2012 against FIU. Batties showed his versatility with a 61-yard punt return in the third quarter, stretching MT's edge to 47-0.

Middle Tennessee hits the road next week for a 2:30 p.m. contest. The game is televised on the Big Ten Network.

POSTGAME NOTES

CAPTAINS: Today's game captains were WR Marcus Henry, LB Christian Henry and OL Jonah Sells.

GAME DELAY: Tonight's season opener against Savannah was delayed by lightning for 23 minutes. The official kickoff time was 6:23 PM.

BYARD GETS 10TH: Kevin Byard recorded his 10th career pick when he came down with one early in the second quarter against the Tigers. Byard is now tied for seventh on the all-time list. The career leader is James Griffin's 17.

FIRST TIME STARTERS: Middle Tennessee had seven first time starters tonight against SSU with five on offense and two on defense. The first timers were QB Austin Grammer, FB Chase Pennycuff, WR Ed'Marques Batties, WR Terry Pettis, and WR Devin Clarke, DE Steven Rhodes, and LB Trey Wafford.

BIG DEBUT FOR GRAMMER: Quarterback Austin Grammer, making his first collegiate start, enjoyed a strong debut in front of the home crowd against Savannah. The redshirt sophomore threw for a career-high 250 yards while also completing a personal-best 15 passes. His 88.2 completion percentage (15-17) matched the second-best in school history. Grammer also added 26 yards on the ground.

WAFFORD FOR SIX: LB Trey Wafford, playing in his first Blue Raider game, scored his first touchdown when he scooped a fumble and returned it 20 yards. It marked the 20th defensive score for Middle Tennessee under Rick Stockstill.

BATTIES RETURN: Ed'Marques Batties returned a punt 61 yards for a touchdown in the third quarter to mark the Raiders' first score on a punt return since the season opener in 2013 against WCU. Kyle Griswould went 57 yards last year against the Catamounts. It also went down as the 11th special teams score under Rick Stockstill.

BLOCKED KICK: Middle Tennessee blocked its 29th kick in the Rick Stockstill era when Raynard Felton rejected a field goal in the third quarter. It marked the first blocked field goal since 2012 against FIU. The Raiders have blocked 15 field goals, 11 punts and 3 PATs under Stockstill.

QUICK HITTERS: Middle Tennessee opened its 100th season of football tonight against Savannah State … Max Ugboaja, Shubert Bastien, Christian Henry and Leighton Gasque played in their team leading 38th career game tonight … Isaiah Anderson, Kevin Byard and Darius Johnson all made their 26th straight start to lead the Raiders … QB Austin Grammer's 50-yard pass to Jordan Parker in the first quarter was the longest of his career … Jordan Parker set his career long with his 50-yard reception in the first quarter … On his first collegiate play, QB AJ Erdely scored on a 3-yard touchdown run … Jared Singletary recorded his second career fumble recovery on last play of first half … The Blue Raiders scored in all three phases of the game tonight (offense, defense, special teams) … Middle Tennessee's 61 points went down as the most scored in a season opener.

QUOTES

Middle Tennessee Head Coach Rick Stockstill

On the season opener:
I thought it was a good opening start. We came out and played fast, we flew around, we tackled good, and made good plays in all three phases of the game. We had some disappointing things happen. We fumbled a punt. Two possessions in the first half were disappointing. We lost a fumble on a screen pass. Reggie had a long run and then we had a receiver get caught on a holding penalty. We got a little sloppy the last few minutes of the first half. In the second half we made some plays. Demetrius dropped the one ball that ended up as an interception, so we've got enough stuff that we can clean up to get better for Minnesota. I thought it was a good day. I'm proud of our effort. I thought we competed extremely hard, and I'm really proud of the team and what they accomplished today.

On the rain delay:
It happened to us a lot in august during our camp. And I told our guys when it happened we may get a delay and you have to be mentally tough and we have to handle it. It rained, we sent them back. We were prepared for it tonight. I talked to our team yesterday and told them there was a good chance for rain around kickoff. I told them exactly what we were going to do and where we were going to go. No matter how long it lasted, we were ready for it. Our guys did a good job of maintaining their focus and intensity during that delay, and coming out and starting fast and playing fast. We went in the weight room, we stretched, we got on the bikes, we got on the treadmill. We kept our sweat going, so to speak. We were stretched and ready to go when they called us.

On Austin Grammer's performance:
I thought Austin did a nice job. He didn't force a lot of throws. He went to the right guy a lot of the time, he scrambled out a couple times and made some plays with his feet. He avoided a sack one time by throwing it away. I thought Austin did a nice job, and I thought our first offensive line did a really nice job.

On defensive performance:
I thought our defense played really well. I thought we played fast, I thought we were violent. There were some very physical hits out there. We had a chance for a fumble early in the game, and we didn't get it. That was probably one of the most disappointing things of the night. We had a chance to get a ball there and didn't get it. Our defense did a good job tonight and really flew around. We did a good job tackling in space. They did a good job of getting the ball out quick, so it's hard to get the ball out there, but I thought we harassed the quarterback and when he ran, there were some very physical hits on him.

On having a young team:
There were a lot of guys, even starters that played their first games. We're a very young team on both sides of the ball, and the more they can play – especially in these elements – they should come out with a little bit of confidence after what they accomplished today. Our backs ran hard. There were a couple times we danced a bit, but for the most part our guys ran behind their pads and ran hard.

On team effort:
We stress so much that it's not just offense, it's not just defense, it's not just a kicking game. We talk so much about giving maximum and relentless effort on every snap no matter if it's offense or defense or special teams, the objective is to score. We probably could've blocked five punts if we ever would've come after one. Our kickoff coverage team was much improved from last year. We didn't get many opportunities for kick return. We did have a punt return for a touchdown, and Ed (Batties) had a nice play on that. I was proud of what we did. On kickoff coverage it looked like we were really flying down there and we got some good kicks by Cody (Clark).

On Minnesota:
Minnesota had a good opening night win. Every time you go on the road it's tough. And going up there to the Big 10 especially. They've got a loud stadium. So we've got to do a great job communicating to our players. We've got to improve on a lot of areas from tonight, but like I said all along, we're hungry and I look forward to coaching this team this week to prepare for Minnesota.

QB Austin Grammer

On the QB battle:
Those two guys are incredible quarterbacks and incredible competitors. It was definitely a blessing to come out and be the starter, but those guys make it easy because we're all the best of friends. People don't see it, but we hang out together all week and they've been really good guys about it.

On the running backs:
There's really not any drop off. It is definitely hard on the defense when we plug in this guy, then this guy, then this guy, and keep pounding away and that definitely opens up the passing game."

On the offensive line:
I was actually roommates with Josh Chester, our right guard and we were talking the other day, and I told him the other day I honestly believe we could have the best o-line in the nation. We had a couple guys starting at different positions, but I feel like they did incredible.

On preparing for Minnesota:
This week I'm going to work on getting my protection calls right, getting my guys in the right places. We've been told it's a very loud place, so getting the signals in and getting everybody lined up, and really being a leader is very important.

LB Trey Wafford

On fumble recovery for touchdown:
It was like Coach Nix put me in the right position and the quarterback lost the ball and it fell right into my hands, so it was a good opportunity to take it to the house.

On preparing for Savannah State:
We went over film all week and we just had to adjust to everything they were doing.

On the defensive effort:
We go by a standard that we have give out relentless effort. We play physical and play fast. We didn't make many mistakes today.

On traveling to Minnesota:
We'll have to communicate with each other because we all know it's going to be a loud stadium.

Savannah State Head Coach Earnest Wilson III

On if team lost their focus:
No, not necessarily. I just think it was hard for them to get a rhythm. You have to remember, you're playing with five or six freshmen on each side of the ball. But they're talented guys. I even learned some stuff, and I always put it on myself.

On the youth of the team:
It's still about us. It's still about us executing just basic football and doing basic things. I can tell you I see some good things in ourselves. They're very talented young men.

On leadership of Ker-Sean Wilson:
That's why we nominated him for captain this morning. Before we left we nominated him a captain…we do leadership training and what not, that's what we're looking for. We're looking for it with the rest of the kids and we're really picking it up. I think we are going to do well.

On Middle Tennessee:
They're a good football team. There's a reason they went to a bowl game last year. Coach Stockstill has been there for many years. I've known him for a long time and he really has them going as a well-oiled machine.

QB Ker-Sean Wilson

On focus of the team:
I think we just have to regain (focus). We let the weather get to us a little but that's no excuse. We have to go back to practice, watch film this week, and just prepare for the next one and put this behind us. There's a lot to learn from this game. I think we're headed in the right direction.

On if the Middle Tennessee defense was too athletic:
No, I don't think that. Like I said, I think we let the weather get to us and lost our mental focus. We just let that bring us down. At the same time we have to stay mentally in it. Not just for one quarter but for all four quarters.
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