Iowa Football

Iowa football: 5 Things to know about Middle Tennessee

Hawkeyes host Conference USA's Blue Raiders in return from bye week

Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher 'Hara looks for an open receiver. (MTSU athletics)
Middle Tennessee quarterback Asher 'Hara looks for an open receiver. (MTSU athletics)
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After a week of rest and relaxation — that’s what happens during bye weeks, right? — it’s time for the now 14th-ranked Iowa football team to get back to business.

But first, the Hawkeyes (3-0) have to host Middle Tennessee (1-2) in the final nonconference tilt of the season. A trip to No. 20 Michigan is up the following week.

For they record. don’t call this week’s opponent Middle Tennessee State. It’s Middle Tennessee or MTSU (not sure what the “s” stands for now). Or simply the Blue Raiders.

It’s easy to poke fun when teams like MTSU venture into Eastern Iowa, but this is not an awful program from Conference USA, as you are about to find out.

Here are “5 Things” to know about the Blue Raiders:

1. The coach

To say Rick Stockstill has found a home in Murfreesboro, Tenn., may be an understatement.

He has coached MTSU to an 88-80 record in 14 seasons and has had just three losing campaigns, including a 6-7 ledger in 2010 when the Blue Raders lost to Miami (Ohio) in the GoDaddy.com Bowl.

He has guided MTSU to eight of its 12 bowl appearances, including wins over Southern Mississippi in 2009 (New Orleans Bowl) and Arkansas State in 2017 (Camellia Bowl).

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After the 2009 season (10-3 overall, 7-1 in the Sun Belt Conference and the aforementioned bowl win over Southern Miss), Stockstill was pursued by several other schools, but turned them all down.

 
 

He coached the team to a Sun Belt Conference title in his first season (2006) and guided the Blue Raiders to an East Division title in Conference USA last year.

He is a three-time conference coach of the year, twice in the Sun Belt.

Stockstill was an honorable mention All-America quarterback at Florida State, passing for 2,834 yards in two-plus seasons under center. In 1980, he completed 121 of 202 passes for 1,377 yards with 15 touchdowns and had a QB rating of 134.4. His son, Brent, later played QB at MTSU, leading the Blue Raiders to the 2018 New Orleans Bowl.

Before taking over the Blue Raiders program, Stockstill was an assistant coach for 24 season with stops at Bethune-Cookman, Central Florida, Clemson, East Carolina and South Carolina. He worked primarily on the offensive side of the ball, including two seasons at co-offensive coordinator at Clemson.

2. The QB

Asher O’Hara is on a tear in 2019.

In three games — losses to Michigan and Duke and a win over Tennessee State — the sophomore from Rolling Meadows, Ill., has a 170.04 quarterback rating. He has completed 63 of 89 passes — that’s 70.8 percent — for 785 yards and eight touchdowns against just two interceptions. That includes a 22-of-32 performance against the Wolverines, where he passed for 217 yards and two TDs.

He played in just two games last year — when Brent Stockstill was hurt — and passed for 114 yards.

He also leads the team in rushing with 202 yards, an average of 4.8 yards per carry.

He started his career at the College of DuPage, where he passed for 1,814 yards and 15 TDs and rushed for 565.

3. The receiver

A senior from Moultrie. Ga., Ty Lee is closing in on several MTSU career records.

 
 

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Named to the Biletnikoff Watch List before the season, he ranks third in school history in career receptions (225) and touchdown receptions (22) and fifth in receiving yards (2,672).

This season, he has caught a team-high 12 passes for 135 yards and has one TD.

A 3-star recruit out of Colquitt County High School, he led his team to two state titles.

4. The defense

The Blue Raiders defense has struggled, but that includes those big losses to Power Five schools.

 
 

Michigan scored 40 points, Duke 41. But MTSU also gave up 26 to Tennessee State and is allowing 35.7 points per game.

The Blue Raiders also are giving up 222 rushing yards a game, 5.0 per rush. They also are allowing 238.6 passing yards and, all told, 460.7 yards a game. That’s 6.1 yards per attempt.

Junior safety Reed Blankenship is the leader with 25 total tackles and two interceptions.

5. The history

Middle Tennessee doesn’t have a rich football history, but has some interesting facts in its past.

The program was started in 1911 and played as an independent through 1951. It joined the Ohio Valley Conference in 1952, then was an independent again in 1999 and 2000. It was a Sun Belt Conference member from 2001 to 2012 before joining Conference USA.

From 1984 through 1994, the Blue Raiders made seven appearances in the NCAA Division I-AA playoffs, reaching the semifinals in 1984 and the quarterfinals in 1985, ’89. ’90, ’91 and ’92.

Athletic teams did not have a nickname until 1934 when the Murfreesboro newspaper held a contest. The prize for the winning “Blue Raiders” entry was $5.

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The teams were previously know as the “Normalties” or “Teachers” or “Pedagogues.” A pedagogue, by the way, is a “teacher, schoolmaster,” according to Merriam-Webster. Had to look that one up.

Comments: (319) 368-8696; jr.ogden@thegazette.com

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