MTSU Drops Road Game against Liberty; 2-4 Through the First Six Games
By MTN Sports Reporter Austin Caperton
MTSU traveled to Lynchburg Saturday to face off against Malik Willis and the Liberty Flames. The Blue Raiders were coming off a big conference win at home against the high-powered Marshall offense and looking to pull the upset over the Flames.
They fell short in a disappointing 41-13 loss, unable to find a rhythm on offense and incapable of capitalizing on opportunities created by the MTSU defense.
MTSU’s offense was one-dimensional as they gained 230 yards through the air and only 35 yards on the ground on 21 attempts. This was particularly disappointing after a breakout performance for MTSU’s run game last week against Marshall.
Coach Rick Stockstill said, “We never got anything established in the run game, we couldn’t block, get anything going from there.”
MTSU could not move the ball at all in the first quarter, with all five of their drives either ending with a punt, turnover on downs, or a turnover for the Liberty defense.
MTSU turned the ball over twice, with the first turnover coming immediately following the first MTSU interception of the day.
MTSU quarterback Chase Cunningham, in his 3rd start, struggled against Liberty, only completing fifty percent of his passes. Cunningham did throw for over 200 yards and 2 touchdown passes in the loss.
“They dominated us up front, their defensive front dominated us offensively upfront. Chase had zero time to throw the ball, they harassed him constantly; we couldn’t protect him.” said Coach Stockstill.
Jimmy Marshall led the Blue Raiders in receiving yards, catching 7 balls for 77 yards and a touchdown. Jarrin Pierce caught the other touchdown pass and recorded 4 catches for 57 yards total.
“Chase always gonna make the play that needs to be made so… put me in a position and I made the play.” said Marshall.
The Flames came into the game averaging 446 yards per game and kept up to that standard, putting up 41 points and 449 yards in total offense.
Top NFL prospect, Malik Willis, was stifled by an MTSU defense that ranked top three in the nation in takeaways. Prior to the game, Willis had not been intercepted this season, but the Raiders defense was opportunistic and picked off Willis three times.
“All three of those were big-time plays, you know DQ made a nice catch, Dacorian made a nice catch, Greg made a nice catch on the sideline. They made good plays.” said Coach Stockstill.
Despite creating three takeaways, the MTSU defense struggled heavily to contain Liberty, giving up over 200 yards rushing and 3 touchdowns on the ground. Jurriente Davis led MTSU in tackles and Jordan Ferguson recorded 2 sacks.
The three interceptions were nabbed by Decorian Patterson, Greg Grate Jr., and DQ Thomas. The first interception was a toe-tap catch on the sidelines by Greg Grate.
“It was just a simple cover 2 and they tried to run a jail screen, but it was a jail screen to go, and I recognized it and I tried to just make a play for my team.” said Grate of his impressive interception.
MTSU has an open week next week, a chance to rest up and get back some of the players who have missed time with injuries throughout the first half of the season. After that, a trip to UConn kicks off the second half of the season and a chance for MTSU to finally get a road win this season.
Grate and the team believe this upcoming bye week is a big one to determine the trajectory of the team for the second half of the season.
It’s a crucial week cause I feel like we gotta come together more as a team, you know, do some bonding and correct our mistakes, eliminate the penalties, eliminate the big plays, just come together as a whole. Play our game, cause when we play our game, I feel like nobody can really stop us.”