For Kentucky fans downplaying the Wildcats’ competition today, don’t be surprised to see the final result being much closer than expected.
The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders come into Saturday’s matchup with a 7-3 record with two of their losses coming to SEC foes: the Georgia Bulldogs and Vanderbilt Commodores.
The Blue Raiders, leading the Conference USA Eastern division, are in position to win their first-ever C-USA conference championship. Despite falling short of recent championship titles, head coach Rick Stockstill has taken the team to seven bowl games.
With another talented team, here’s a look at Stockstill’s four biggest playmakers.
Brent Stockstill, Quarterback
As son of the head coach, Brent Stockstill ranks as one of the better non-power five quarterbacks. The senior is Middle Tennessee State’s all-time passing leader, while also holding the school record for passing yards in a season with 4,005 back in 2015.
This season, Stockstill ranks 39th in the nation with 2,298 yards. He’s also thrown 21 touchdowns to just five interceptions. As Kentucky safety Mike Edwards said earlier in the week, Stockstill’s “big arm” has been a focal point in Kentucky’s preparation for Saturday’
Welcome back Brent Stockstill!— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) November 5, 2017
Precision for SIX! pic.twitter.com/erpZ8FN2ZK
Tavares Thomas, Running Back
Thomas’s role, as well as stats, don’t necessarily blow people away. He’s ranks only third on the team in rushing with just 200 yards and his longest run of the season went for only 19 yards.
What is unique about Thomas, though, is he has scored seven touchdowns on limited usage. Five of his scores have come via the ground game and two via the air. Getting the ball in Thomas’s hands often results in a touchdown for the Blue Raiders, likely leading to Kentucky putting much emphasis on containing No. 21 for MTSU.
Tavares Thomas battles his way into the endzone to get @MT_FB on the board! pic.twitter.com/dY88dDm3y5— Conference USA (@ConferenceUSA) October 14, 2018
Tye Lee, Wide Receiver
Lee is Middle Tennessee’s leading receiver in yards and is tied for the lead in touchdown catches. Lee’s 621 receiving yards this season are good for eighth in Conference USA, as his five touchdowns have him tied for seventh.
Lee only stands 5’9 but is extremely quick in space. He can turn an inch into a mile as well as anyone, which can lead to big plays that Kentucky has been vulnerable to the last two weeks.
Brent Stockstill with a 43 yard TD to Ty Lee!!! #MidTenn pic.twitter.com/nyPoIHmfKE— #FreePhillipDorsett (@ftbeard_17) November 3, 2018
DQ Thomas, Linebacker
Thomas has a knack of getting to the football, specifically in the opponent’s backfield. He has 49 combined tackles with six sacks that have him tied for sixth in conference play. Thomas also has three pass breakups as well as a forced fumble. The Kentucky offense, which has struggled as of late, will surely have eyes on Thomas at all times.
... Highlights of signee DQ Thomas (@_dqthomas20)! #NSD17 #MTNSD17 pic.twitter.com/IpHKmdDY23— MT Athletics (@MTAthletics) February 1, 2017