They call the relationship between the Memphis Tigers and the Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders a rivalry, but with the Raiders having a 17-8-1 advantage head-to-head, rivalry isn’t a word I would use. Still, there is no love loss between these two teams.
MTS has won 5 of the last six times these two teams have played since 2007, including the last three meetings. Most are saying that the Tigers would prefer not to play the Blue Raiders, but this year it could be the other way around.
This Tiger team could be the toughest that MTS has yet to face, evidenced alone by the way the Tigers have played this year with one win and one loss. They opened up the season demoralizing Austin Peay 63-0, and almost upset the UCLA Bruins (in the Rose Bowl no less) in a close, 42-35 thrilling loss.
If you need evidence that this Memphis Tiger team will be a new experience for the MTS Raiders, look no further than the kind of performance the team has put up in their first two games. The Tigers have averaged over 500 yards a game through their first two, with an average of near 50 points scored!
A big part of that success has been the performance of Tiger and sophomore quarterback,Paxton Lynch
. In just those two games the Tigers have played this season, Lynch already has 547 yards, and has completed almost 70% of his passes!
Lynch can throw and rush, with 3 touchdowns for the Tigers passing, and 3 rushing. In short, Lynch has been a threat, and may well be against the Blue Raiders as well. I should add that Lynch was named the Conference USA player of the week based on the strength of that performance.
While I’m bragging about Paxton Lynch, I should also brag a bit about MTS quarterback Austin Grammer as well. Also a sophomore, Grammer has shown some prowess of his own. In the thrilling, triple-overtime, 50-47 win over Western Kentucky, he passed for 218 yards and a touchdown, and rushed for a whopping 125 yards and three touchdowns! Seems the Blue Raiders have their own version of Johnny Football.
Memphis and MTS Keys To Victory
For the Memphis Tigers, the most important factor will come in whether or not they are able to stop an outstanding MTS running game. Not only is Grammer a thread as a scrambling quarterback, but senior running back Reggie Whatley leads the Blue Raiders in rushing with a total of 223 yards and a couple of touchdowns. Grammer + Whatley alone has equaled 384 yards rushing for the tandem in two games, and they have other weapons as well.
For the Blue Raiders, the most important factor for them will come in how well they are able to maintain control of the football. Simply put, they need to stop the turnover bleed. Through their first three games, the Blue Raiders have turned the ball over an unnaceptable six times, including four interceptions and two fumbles.
They improved on that with zero turnovers in their triple-overtime win against Western Kentucky, and will need to do the same against the Tigers.
Additionally for the Blue Raiders, they will need to figure out a way to stop Paxton Lynch from being successful passing. For a quarterback who was able to pass for 469 yards against the Bruins, he is always a threat!
The Tigers were impressive in their loss to the UCLA Bruins, but then so were the Blue Raiders in their victory over Western Kentucky. Most seem to believe the Tigers have the chops this year to defeat MTS. Perhaps, but I’m not so sure it will be as easy as all that.
As impressive as the Tigers seemed against the Bruins, we all need to remember that the Bruins defense was highly suspect going into that game, and that weak defense was certainly a factor in the Tigers close loss. That’s not to say I’d take anything away from Paxton Lynch as a quarterback.
It should be a close game. As improved as the Tigers are, I still give a slight edge to MTS, based solely on how well they played against Western Kentucky, and how good their ground game is. I have MTS with a slight edge, and expect a win (some say an upset) for them of 34-28.