A local and conference rivalry will be renewed when Tennessee State heads to Murfreesboro to take on Middle Tennessee State. The last meeting between the two schools after MTSU left the OVC in 1998 was a 2019 meeting that the Blue Raiders won 45-26, putting them up in the all-time series 11-10.
Tennessee State comes into the game 0-2 but not all winless records are created the same. In their 36- 29 loss to eastern Washington as well as the 16-3 defeat to Jackson state in the southern heritage Classic, TSU played well enough to secure wins but critical and untimely mistakes, as well as missing out on opportunities proved to be their undoing. Devon Starling has gotten off to a strong start to the season, rushing for 207 yards against Eastern Washington and then 70 against Jackson State. Staring is averaging a remarkable 6.4 yards per carrying on the year
While Quarterback Draylen Ellis has shown some flashes of brilliance, the Austin Peay transfer has been more solid than spectacular, Against Eastern Washington, Ellis completed N of his 27 passes for 257 yards, 2 TDS, and one interception. Against Jackson State under much more duress, Ellis only completed 10 of 24 passes for 139 yards. Cumulatively Ellis has thrown for 396 yards,2TD, and 1 int while completing 52.9%(27-51) of his passes on the season.
The Tennessee State defense is captained by University of Houston transfer, safety Gleason Sprewell and defensive lineman Davoan Hawkins. The TSU defense returns three starters from last year’s unit that was fifth in the OVC in total defense The TSU defense currently ranks second in the Ohio Valley Conference in scoring, allowing 26.0 ppg (Lindenwood is ranked number one, surrendering 20.0 ppg, but has only played one game this season), but just 7th in total defense, as the unit allows 446 yards per ballgame.
Middle Tennessee State enters the matchup off a 34-19 win over Colorado State. Redshirt Senior quarterback Chase Cunningham and the Blue Raider offense were shut down in the opener against James Madison, limited to just 7 points, 10 first downs, and only 119 yards of total offense. The unit bounced back in the win against Colorado State, scoring 27 points, racking up 20 first downs, and 380 yards of total offense. Cunningham looked much sharper, completing 31 of his 39 passes for 266 yards, 1 TD, and an interception. Frank Peasant led the ground attack with 93 yards and 2 TDs on 22 carries.
Conference USA Defensive Player of the Week Qunidarius Dunnigan led an MTSU defense that, against Colorado State, had a school-record nine sacks forced four turnovers, and limited the Rams to 246 yards of offense. Dunnigan himself had seven tackles, 3.5 of which were for losses, 2.5 sacks, and broke up a pass. On the season, the Blue Raider defensive unit currently sits fourth in total defense, averaging 397 yards and 31.5 ppg.
Why Tennessee State will win:
The MTSU defense is going to look to take away Devon Starling and force Draylen Ellis to beat them. Last season Draylen Ellis lead the Ohio Valley Conference in passing yards, passing touchdowns, yards per completion, and total offense per game and he will rise to the challenge and display why he earned those accolades. The success of the passing game will open things up for Starling and the Tennessee State rushing attack. The TSU will continue to display the fast and physical style shown in the Southern Heritage. They will get in the space of Chase Cunningham and make life very difficult for him and the Blue Raider offense.
Why MTSU will win:
Chase Cunningham and the passing game will, like Eastern Washington, cause the TSU secondary to revert to a bad habit of losing receivers in coverage. This will contribute to the Tiger defense being unable to get key stops on third downs and will keep them on the field and the offense on the sidelines. Dunningan and the MTSU defense will show their performance last week and his DPOW we’re no flukes as they will pressure Draylen Ellis and just like in the Jackson State game, this will put the TSU offense in quicksand. Unable to make plays when they need them, the Raiders will send their former OVC conference mates back up I-40 with an 0-3 record.