Florida Atlantic at Middle Tennessee
When and Where: Saturday, Sept. 29, Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium, Murfreesboro, Tenn., 7 p.m.,
Both Florida Atlantic and Middle Tennessee hope the lumps they’ve taken in non-conference play have made them stronger for the rigors of Conference USA as they open their respective slates Saturday in an East Division tussle.
The Owls (2-2) and Blue Raiders (1-2) have suffered three losses to ranked schools between them, with Middle Tennessee State suffering its defeats to a pair of SEC opponents. Florida Atlantic, the defending C-USA champion is coming off a 56-36 setback at-then No. 16 UCF on Sept. 21 while Middle Tennessee State was routed 49-7 at previously third-ranked Georgia on Sept. 15.
Kiffin hoping for improved defensive play in C-USA opener
The Owls were the latest team to succumb to the UCF juggernaut, becoming the 16th consecutive victim with a 56-36 loss to the Golden Knights on Sept. 21.
Florida Atlantic held a 17-14 with 1:34 to play in the first half after Vladimir Rivas kicked a 32-yard field goal, but the wheels fell off after that as UCF ripped off three touchdowns in a span of 8:14 around halftime.
UCF gashed the Owls for 545 total yards, and redshirt freshman quarterback Chris Robison did not help matters by throwing three interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown.
“Freshmen are always going to make mistakes, because they haven’t played,” Owls coach Lane Kiffin said at his Sunday news conference about Robison. “He has been up and down which is what you see happens, especially in road games.”
Kiffin, though, does have a standout running back he can lean on in Devin Singletary, who had a season-high 131 yards and three touchdowns in the loss. A two-time 1,000-yard rusher who finished 80 shy of 2,000 last year, the junior has found the end zone 10 times already and has 341 yards.
But the struggles of Florida Atlantic’s defense has Kiffin concerned. While two of the losses have come to powerhouses in UCF and Oklahoma, the Owls have yielded 475.0 yards per game, including 220.8 on the ground.
“We have to play better in all areas. We have to tackle better in space, especially in the backend. We’ve got to play better upfront,” he said. “When you’ve got them backed up on third down, ready to get off the field … I know they can do it because we have showed it at times, (we’ve) played well.”
Robison has completed 64.7 percent of his passed for 923 yards and five touchdowns but also has been picked off five times.
Florida Atlantic, which ran the table in conference play in 2017 while averaging 46.0 points, has committed seven turnovers already after totaling 13 all of last season.
Blue Raiders ready to bounce back after bye week licking wounds
Middle Tennessee had its bye week last weekend, which came at an opportune time after being manhandled 49-7 by CFP finalist Georgia.
The week off allowed coach Rick Stockstill extra time to drill his team for Florida Atlantic’s up-tempo offense, which ran 79 plays in last season’s 38-20 victory in which Singletary rang up 133 yards and four scores.
“Very talented, very athletic, and a very fast team,” Stockstill said in describing the Owls. “They have a lot of experience coming back on both sides of the ball. Offensively for them it starts with their running back.
“We’ve got to do a great job of slowing him down. He’s a really dynamic running back and he’s very special. He runs hard, physical, and fast. I think he had 130 yards and three touchdowns against us last year.”
Middle Tennessee State, though, did not have quarterback Brent Stockstill under center for last year’s contest as he was sidelined for six games with a broken sternum suffered against Syracuse. The coach’s son, though, has gotten off to a strong start this year with 712 yards and seven TD passes while completing 68 percent of his passes.
“Obviously you want to win every game you play, but these are the ones that matter. 1-2 wasn’t how we wanted to start, but we have a chance to get off on the right foot in the conference this weekend,” the younger Stockstill said. “It’s fun to know you have several conference games in a row so you can get locked in a rhythm. Each game is very important, you want to get locked in and on a roll and everybody loves that.”
In his only game against the Owls, Stockstill threw for 301 yards and a pair of touchdowns in Middle Tennessee’s 24-17 victory in 2015. He has thrown all seven of his touchdown passes this season to Patrick Smith and CJ Windham, who along with Brad Anderson, have combined for 38 catches and 495 yards.
Middle Tennessee is:
- 7-1 ATS in its last eight games following a loss.
- 7-2 ATS in its last nine games vs. Florida Atlantic.
- 6-0 ATS in its last six games after scoring less than 20 points in its previous game.
- The over is 4-0 in its last four games after allowing more than 450 yards in its previous game.
Florida Atlantic is:
- 4-11-1 ATS in its last 16 games as a favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
- 3-11-1 ATS in its last 15 games vs. sub-.500 teams.
- 2-6 ATS in its last eight games after allowing 40 or more points in its previous game.
- The over is 9-4 in its last 13 games vs. C-USA teams.
- The over is 5-1 in its last six games as a road favorite.
- The over is 7-2 in its last nine road games as a favorite between 3.5 and 10 points.
The Bottom Line What to bet on this game.
Full-Game Side Bet
Last year’s 38-20 victory snapped a nine-game losing streak to Middle Tennessee for Florida Atlantic, and the Blue Raiders appear to be at full strength offensively this time around.
They have won all six games in Murfreesboro since the teams became Conference USA rivals, with Middle Tennessee averaging 38.3 points while scoring 31 or more in five of those contests.
This game will come down to the quarterbacks, with Brent Stockstill’s experience and poise a key advantage that could help Middle Tennessee State overcome Singletary’s rushing prowess.
Prediction: Pick: Middle Tennessee +4.5 (+105)
Full-Game Total Pick
The teams have combined to score 48 or more points in seven of the last eight overall meetings, and the last game at Middle Tennessee saw them combine for 19 touchdowns in a wild 77-56 victory for the Blue Raiders in 2016.
The winning team has scored at least 31 points in all but one of the last eight games, and there is a strong likelihood that might not be enough this time around.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 61.5 (-110)
Half-Time Side Pick
The hedge is Middle Tennessee is going to continue its home dominance in this series, and while Singletary could give the Blue Raiders fits, Stockstill should be able to take advantage of a mediocre Owls defense.
Prediction: Pick: Middle Tennessee +1.5 (-105)
Half-Time Total Bet
The teams have scored 30 or more first-half points in their last four meetings, including 63 in the last contest at Middle Tennessee State.
Prediction: Pick: OVER 31 (-110)