MTSU’s offense is hard to predict because their 2017 sample size was limited by two major injuries and multiple position changes. By the end of the year, they showed they would move away from spread passing components to a ground-based attack with four different running backs, running it 40.1% of the time, a four year high.
They have eight returning starters, including three on the offensive line and their coach’s son, QB Brent Stockstill, who has missed nine games in the past two years due to injury.
Stockstill is a 6’0” 215lb Senior. When he was healthy last year, the offense averaged nearly 30 points per game. He completed 57% of his passes for 1672 yards, 16-8 TD/INT ratio in just seven games. He is a good passer, especially with an explosive WR. In 2016 he threw 105 passes for 1625 yards and 12 TD’s to Richie James.
OC Tony Franklin likes to use short passes as extension of the running game. Their yards per completion (4.3) are lower because of the sideways passes, but the short passing game opens up chunk plays.
Speaking of WR’s, the Blue Raiders are in need of explosive speed. Ty Lee a 5’9” 175lbs Junior, played in James’ shadow in 2017, with 699 yards last year, in 11 games. This year, he should be the primary target. He is a possession receiver with some explosive ability but no breakaway speed.
The number two and three WR’s are CJ Windham, a 6’2” 205lb Junior, and Patrick Smith, a 6’0 187 lbs Senior. Neither have breakaway speed or are limited in explosiveness. Windham had 351 yards last year. Smith only caught 29 passes.
They did get Gatlin Casey, a graduate transfer from Lehigh. Nearly 2,000 yards last two years and 26 touchdowns. At 6’3” he is a big target but is scouted as a one speed receiver who does not move out of breaks well or shake defenders to get open.
In the backfield, MTSU has a stable of backs. Last year, they relied on Tavares Thomas (6-0 245lbs Senior) and Brad Anderson (5’8” 175lbs Sophomore). They ran for 505 yards and 491 yards respectively. Both averaged 5.5 yards per carry. Together, they were known as “Smash and Dash,” Thomas earning the tough yards and Anderson acting as a more speedy back. Thomas came into the backfield from the LB core five games into the season. Anderson was injured before the season ended. Their third back, Terelle West, a 5’10” 200lbs Junior, ran for 330 yards on 57 attemps (5.4 ypc), with 4 TDs.
They don’t seem to get many carries in Franklin’s offense, but after Stockstill and James went down with injuries, they ran the ball more in their last four games than they did in any other game prior but one. It’s possible with their lack of downfield threats that they will rely more on the ground game than in the past.
This year’s OL should be an improvement despite losing the left side of their line. The 2018 unit will have double the amount of career starts than they did last year. The 2017 was a a weakness for them giving up 25 sacks compared to the 14 from the year prior. Still, the OL is a concern for the Blue Raiders this year, given they will need more time for passing plays to develop.
2017 saw a tremendous drop in offensive productivity for the Blue Raiders, 25.5 points per game from 39.7 in 2016 and 393 yards per game from 518 ypg. Yet, they still won seven games, one less than the year before. This year, they no longer have their star WR, a field stretcher that kept the defense honest. Their OL should be better, and Stockstill is a coach’s son who knows the game well and will deliver the ball where it needs to be. Their lack of explosiveness will hinder their ability to score quickly or make up ground when they fall behind. No matter how good the QB is, if there aren’t players to get the ball to, he can’t win it by himself.