A non-conference matchup kicks off the 2019 college football season for a pair of teams when Conference USA makes the trip to challenge the Big Ten. The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders make the trip to visit one of the most daunting venues for a visiting team in all of college football as they head to the Big House to face the #7 Michigan Wolverines Saturday afternoon. Middle Tennessee comes in off an 8-6 season in 2018: they were drubbed 45-13 by Appalachian State in the New Orleans Bowl to end their season. Michigan was 10-3 last year but two straight losses to close the year, including a 41-15 drubbing by Florida in the Peach Bowl dampened the excitement about the year. This marks the first time that the two teams have met on the gridiron: can the Blue Raiders spring the upset on the maize and blue or will the Wolverines get the upper hand in this contest?
Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Hope to Continue Winning Ways
Middle Tennessee comes in off an 8-6 season in 2018 but has work to do if they hope to earn a bowl bid for the fifth consecutive season. It’s a transition season for coach Rick Stockstill, who returns only 10 starters from last season, including just four on the offensive side of the ball. One thing is for certain is that the Blue Raiders will have a new quarterback as Brent Stockstill, the coach’s son, graduated and now is an assistant coach at Florida Atlantic. There are more questions than answers given that the top three offensive linemen from last season are gone, not to mention four of their top pass catchers.
— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) August 26, 2019
In 2018, the Blue Raiders were a solid passing team, averaging 259.9 yards per game through the air compared to 128.9 yards per game on the ground: they averaged only 3.6 yards per carry. Middle Tennessee was 77th in the FBS in scoring offense with 28 points per game and 62nd in scoring defense as they allowed 26.7 points per contest. The team hasn’t named a new starting QB in a three-man race: redshirt sophomore Asher O’Hara (nine of 20, 114 yards, INT, 85 rushing yards) has the slight edge over Chase Cunningham with junior college transfer Randall Johnson in the mix but behind the learning curve due to joining the program in June. Middle Tennessee has three of their top four rushers back from last season, led by Chaton Mobley, who ran the ball 123 times for 617 yards and four scores. Terell West (63 carries, 298 yards, TD) and Zack Dobson (16 carries, 214 yards, TD) are back as well. Whoever gets the nod at QB will be relying heavily on receiver Ty Lee, who reeled in 71 passes for 883 yards and seven scores last season. The problem is finding who else will catch the ball as Brad Anderson (27 receptions, 332 yards) is the team’s second-leading returning receiver. Crews Holt is back at kicker: he hit 40 of 45 extra point attempts and 18 of 24 field goal tries last season with a long of 42: he was just one of seven from beyond 40 yards.
Michigan Wolverines Try to Shake Off Disappointing End to 2018 Season
One has to assume the seat is getting a little bit warmer for coach Jim Harbaugh at Michigan. The Wolverines went 10-3 for the third time in his four seasons with the program and stand 38-14 in his time at his alma mater. Michigan lost their opener to Notre Dame last season then won 10 in a row before getting routed 62-39 by Ohio State, knocking them out of the College Football Playoff picture. The Wolverines followed that up with a 41-15 whipping at the hands of Florida in the Peach Bowl to end their season. Michigan is 0-4 against Ohio State under Harbaugh and stands 1-3 in bowl games. With eight offensive starters back, including quarterback Shea Patterson, the expectations are high for the Wolverines. With six opponents ranked in the preseason top 25 on the schedule, it will be a challenge for Harbaugh’s crew this season.
We’re excited to see the product we put onto the field Saturday.
⁰IT'S GAME WEEK. 😤 pic.twitter.com/On4WMHEw7u
— Michigan Football (@UMichFootball) August 26, 2019
The Wolverines averaged 215.8 yards per game through the air last season and ran the ball for 203.8 yards per contest: the team averaged 4.8 yards per carry. Michigan was 21st in the FBS in scoring offense with 35.2 points per game and finished 16th in scoring defense by allowing 19.4 points per game. Shea Patterson completed 210 of 315 passes for 2,600 yards with 22 touchdowns and seven picks while adding 273 yards plus two scores on the ground. Dylan McCaffrey (eight of 15, 126 yards, two TD, 99 rushing yards, TD) and Joe Milton (three of four, 58 yards, INT, 31 rushing yards, TD) are next on the depth chart. Tru Wilson (62 carries, 364 yards, TD) is the leading returning rusher but it’s expected that Christian Turner (20 carries, 95 yards) will be the starter out of the gate. In the passing game, Patterson has familiar targets as Donovan Peoples-Jones (team-high 47 catches, 612 yards, eight TD), Nico Collins (38 grabs, 632 yards, six TD) and the talented but injury-prone Tarik Black are back. Quinn Nordin (45 of 46 on extra points, 11 of 16 field goal attempts with a long of 50) and Jake Moody (five of five extra points, 10 of 11 field goal attempts with a long of 48) are in the mix for the kicking job.
Michigan has some talented running backs including Turner, but Zach Charbonnet might be the real deal as a 6-2 freshman.
“Zach Charbonnet (is) coming on like a freight train,” Jim Harbaugh said a couple of weeks ago. “He is really, really playing well. Sees holes, can run, got a real knack catching the football and understanding and learning the game as well.”
They’ll be playing for a new offensive coordinator in Josh Gattis, who is going to run a no-huddle spread or a pro-spread.
“He’s made a huge difference for us,” left guard Ben Bredeson said. “His offense is obviously a new look for us. He holds us to an incredibly high standard. He knows every single day you’re not going to get off easy if something’s not perfect. He makes us be perfect.”
- Blue Raiders are 8-18-1 ATS in their last 27 games on fieldturf
- Blue Raiders are 1-4 ATS in their last 5 games in August
- Wolverines are 7-3 ATS in their last 10 home games