Earlier this week, I posted a podcast with myself and Adam Sparks of the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro talking about UNT’s game against Middle Tennessee on Saturday. Sparks and I also traded Q&As for our blogs/websites.
The DNJ has a section of its website dedicated to MTSU, where you can find Sparks’ stories. Sparks also has a blog, where he posts a lot of his thoughts called Subtle Sparky, kind of like we call ours the MGB.
Here’s Sparks’ take on tomorrow’s game:
MTSU played pretty well last week in a loss to East Carolina. Was that a big confidence booster?
I don’t know if it was a big confidence booster because I think the team expected to win the game. The frustrating part was that it had chances to pull it out. That being said, the team seemed to be in reasonably good spirits after the loss — that is, to say they were optimistic about the rest of the season. Coach Rick Stockstill has done a pretty good job over the years of getting his team up for the next game. Sometimes it seems as if the Blue Raiders don’t get up as much for “big” games, but that even keeled attitude helps them recover quickly for the next one. So I guess it’s a give and take. But I would say last week’s game would not have much relevance to this one, win or lose, because they know North Texas very well from their shared Sun Belt days. I think they’re really looking forward to this one – and I also think they’re more comfortable and focused on the road.
What’s the deal been with Logan Kilgore this season?
It’s been a few things. He lost his best receiver in Anthony Amos from last year. He got back sure-handed Tavarres Jefferson from a 2012 injury, but the receiving corps is still not where it needs to be. They brought in some JuCo transfers and put some redshirt freshmen out there. They have shown a few flashes, but no where near as consistent as needed. They simply need time, but Kilgore only has a half-season left in his career. Kilgore appears to have over compensated in some ways. He has forced some passes and tossed ill-advised balls (both INTs last week were on first down). The funny thing is I talked to UNT quarterback Derek Thompson about Kilgore before practice earlier this week when I stopped by Denton, and we went through a few things that quarterbacks have to deal with. I mentioned that Kilgore has had three centers already because of injuries, and that got his attention. Thompson said that would throw any QB out of whack a little. So again, it’s been a few things, but the coaches expect Kilgore to play better moving forward. He certainly has been much better in the past.
Does MTSU look at this as a game it has to win?
Have to win? I don’t know about that. Stockstill downplays such labels on games. But to me, yes, this is a pretty big game. Having already lost to East Carolina, winning the East Division would be an uphill climb. But Conference USA has plenty of bowls available, and you would think seven wins would probably snag one of those bids. MTSU is 3-3 right now, and North Texas is a toss-up game on the road. After that, Marshall could be a tough home game. The final four games against UAB, FIU, Southern Miss and UTEP should all be winnable. So MTSU could get to seven or eight wins without a victory in this one, but a win over North Texas would be a major boost. It would be MTSU in a very good position moving forward.
How good is MTSU against the run, which traditionally has been UNT’s bread and butter?
It kind of depends on the opponent – which may bode well for the Blue Raiders since UNT has struggled running the ball lately. But overall, the run defense has not been really good. MTSU has allowed 177.5 rushing yards per game, ranked 82nd nationally. Three of the past four opponents have rushed for more than 180 yards. MTSU is thin at defensive tackle and linebacker, but both groups have played reasonably well. Most of MTSU’s defense is undersized and very fast. That means a lot of good pursuit and gang-tackling, but it also makes them vulnerable to power run games.
How do you see this game playing out?
I see a close game. I see a physical game. These teams know each other well, and I think they are very comparable – perhaps more so than any two teams in the conference. I think Stockstill and McCarney are similar in philosophy and emphasis. Both have very good turnover margins and want to run the ball. Those two areas will probably determine the winner. To borrow a coach cliche, it will probably come down to a few plays either way. Both QBs carry questions of protecting the ball, so interceptions will have a major impact on the game. It’s an interesting setup because UNT has been very good at home, but MTSU usually plays better on the road. I’ll say MTSU wins a tight one. MTSU 27, UNT 24