100 Miles of Hate rivalry set with bowl berth on the line

Sam Porter

WKU hosts archrival Middle Tennessee State University with postseason implications on the line for the second consecutive year. Last season, the Hilltoppers defeated the Blue Raiders 44-43 in overtime in a game that ultimately decided who would represent the C-USA East in the conference championship game. This year, one rival will go bowling while also having the opportunity to keep their rival out of postseason play.

“Any time you play your rival, let alone another conference foe, it kind of adds to it,” redshirt senior quarterback Mike White said. “We’ve had our fair share of very good games, overtime games and thrillers. We know what it’s about. We’re definitely not going into this game looking forward towards anything; we’re focused on this game only. Both sides of the ball and special teams will be ready.”

Both teams have been banged up throughout the season which is one reason why both have fallen short of pre-season expectations. MTSU starting quarterback Brent Stockstill missed six straight games earlier this year, and the Blue Raiders went 2-4 in his absence. In his four starts, Stockstill has thrown 10 touchdowns to just three interceptions while leading MTSU to a 3-1 (2-0 C-USA) record including a 30-23 win over Syracuse back in September.

“Brent Stockstill is a big-time player. He’s the identity and the character of their offense,” head coach Mike Sanford said. “He’s a coach on the field and has a great demeanor about him, the way he battle and fights. We want to see the best version of Middle Tennessee and play our best against their best, that’s what this rivalry game’s all about. It’s great to have Stockstill back in there; Mike White vs. Brent Stockstill [is a] great made-for-TV football game, but I’d say get over here and watch the game in person.”

MTSU also lost one of Stockstill’s favorite weapons, wide receiver James Richie, whose season ended a broken collarbone. However, that’s not the most dangerous weapon on the Blue Raider offense. MTSU receiver Ty Lee is 5th in C-USA in receptions (55) and receiving yards (732) while also adding five touchdowns. The Blue Raiders also use him in the run game to an extent. In their win over Syracuse, Lee started at running back, running for 50 yards while also catching seven passes for 76 yards and a touchdown.

“He’s made some contested 50-50 catches down the field,” Sanford said of Lee.

“They use him in the run-pass option game, the sweep game and plays down the field. When they’re fully healthy, their wide receiver group is a very good group.”

Defensively, the two teams are very evenly matched. MTSU gives up exactly 24 points per game while WKU has given up 24.3 PPG. The Blue Raiders are led by linebacker Khalil Brooks who has been disruptive in the opponent’s backfield in 2017. Brooks has tallied 6.5 sacks (4th in C-USA) and 13 tackles for a loss.

“They like to bring a lot of pressure,” redshirt junior running back D’Andre Ferby said. “They blitz the most out of any team we’ve seen throughout the whole year. It’s just a matter of being disciplined with our eyes and knowing who to pick up.”

The Hilltoppers and Blue Raiders kickoff in the “100 miles of Hate rivalry” at 7 p.m. at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Senior night festivities will take place before the game.

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.