EL PASO -- Middle Tennessee stormed through the Sun Bowl Saturday afternoon with a huge 48-32 road victory against UTEP.
Blue Raiders senior quarterback Brent Stockstill torched the Miners secondary, throwing 352 passing yards (31-of-40) and four passing touchdowns.
“That was a pretty frenetic game for sure, a lot of stuff going on,” said first-year head coach Dana Dimel. “I obviously wasn’t happy with the way we started the ballgame. On the first drive we got them into a third and long, they converted (it) and got a nice drive going. They got the first score in. But then offensively, we had a turnover right after that and put them in good field position.
"I wasn’t happy at all with our early execution. It allowed them to get some momentum on the road. You’ve got to come out and start faster and start a little more precise than we did tonight. And from then, we were just playing behind.”
Here are the three plays that changed the course of today’s game:
Middle Tennessee starts with a two-score lead
Out of the gate, Stockstill commanded his offense to a fast 75-yard touchdown drive capped off by a 13-yard touchdown to Tavares Thomas. Middle Tennessee started off hot, and the Miners offense needed to respond.
On the first snap from scrimmage, UTEP quarterback Kai Locksley swung a short pass out to wideout Keynan Foster, which was immediately stripped for a fumble. Middle Tennessee took over at the UTEP 40 and scored six plays later on a one-yard touchdown run by Thomas. The Blue Raiders had a 14-0 lead and they didn't look back.
"They were ready to play and we weren’t ready to play," Dimel said. "Falling behind 14-0, that’s not fun. If you wiped out the 14-0 lead, it would be a different ball game."
Middle Tennessee would score twice more, before allowing 10 points by the Miners before halftime. Stockstill threw two touchdown passes to Ty Lee and Zack Dobson, while Quadraiz Wadley had a rushing touchdown for UTEP.
4th down conversion leads to a score
Coming out of halftime, it was a tale of two different fourth down conversions.
First, the Miners put together a nice little drive to open up the third quarter, but it was stopped after a 4th-and-1, where Wadley's run was stopped by the Blue Raiders defensive front.
Then, Middle Tennessee, who drove into UTEP territory, converted a 4th-and-3 on a 37-yard pass from Stockstill to the Miners' two yard line. The very next play, Chaton Mobley rushed for a two-yard touchdown.
"I feel we came out a little flat. It’s just being ready to go from the get-go," Wadley said.
Locksley throws a costly turnover for a touchdown
After both teams duked it out with scores of their own, with Middle Tennessee leading 42-18, the Miners were in desperation mode. UTEP needed a score.
Locksley stepped up in the pocket on the Miners drive, following a 75-yard touchdown drive by Middle Tennessee, and fired a wobbly pass downfield which was intercepted. Middle Tennessee safety Wesley Bush picked the ball off from the Blue Raiders' 25 and ran it back 75 yards for a touchdown. With a 48-18 lead over UTEP, Middle Tennessee simply sucked the life out of the Miners.
UTEP attempted a bit of a comeback with two late touchdowns to make it 48-32, but it was too much for the already-built lead Middle Tennessee had.
“We made some runs in the game,” Dimel said. “We got some deficits there that were larger than what we’ve been in for quite a while, but again our team rebounded in those types of situations and showed a lot of fight and a lot of character. I really liked what they did as far as making plays and battling. Our defense was out there quite a bit, but they battled and they battled and did some really positive things even though to the naked eye it may not appear that way. And then our offense found some rhythm in the second half and responded, had some success.”
MTSU out-gained UTEP 491-333, including causing three turnovers on the Miners and executing a perfect 4-for-4 red zone scoring drives.
Locksley finished the day with 163 passing yards off completing 14-for-29, with a touchdown and two interceptions. Jones had 55 yards on 10 passes with a touchdown. Wadley finished with a team-high 99 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Next week, the Miners will travel to take on Western Kenctucky on Saturday, Nov. 17.
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