MTSU Blue Raiders football vs. Southern Miss: Our score prediction, scouting report
The Middle Tennessee State football team will try to stay in contention for a Conference USA East title on homecoming against visiting Southern Miss on Saturday (2:30 kickoff, ESPN+).
The Blue Raiders (3-4, 1-2 C-USA) are coming off a 44-13 win over UConn last week, and Southern Miss (1-6, 0-3) was routed 34-0 by Alabama-Birmingham.
Here's what you need to know about the game:
MTSU enters Saturday tied with Iowa for the FBS lead in takeaways with 20.
The Blue Raiders have recovered 10 fumbles and forced 10 interceptions through seven games.
MTSU is second in the nation in turnover margin with 13, having turned the ball over just seven times.
Senior safety Reed Blankenship leads the team with three fumble recoveries, and redshirt freshman cornerback Quincy Riley leads with three interceptions.
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Eagles struggle offensively
One of the reasons for Southern Miss' struggles has been offense.
Aside from a 37-0 win over FCS opponent Grambling State, the Eagles have not topped 19 points in a game and are averaging just 14.1 a contest.
Most of that starts in the run game. Southern Miss averages just 2.5 yards per carry and has just three touchdowns on the ground. Leading rusher Frank Gore has 110 carries for 443 yards and a touchdown but the next leading gainer has just 126 yards.
Four USM quarterbacks have combined to throw for 1,162 yards but have thrown 11 interceptions to just seven touchdowns. Jake Lange and Tee Webb combined to go 5-for-15 for just 23 yards an in last week's 34-0 loss to UAB.
Lange has thrown for a team-high 561 yards with three TDs and four interceptions.
MTSU offense coming around
MTSU had its best game on the ground in last week's win at UConn, gaining a season-high 155 yards. The combination of Martell Pettaway (12 carries, 63 yards) and Chaton Mobley (13 carries, 48 yards) led the way.
The improvement on the ground has been helped by an explosive Blue Raiders passing attack since junior Chase Cunningham took over at quarterback.
Cunningham, who passed for 297 yards and four TDs in last week's win, has completed 106-of-169 passes (63%) for 1,270 yards and 16 touchdowns with just two interceptions. While he has played in all seven games, he has started just four.
Eighteen different Blue Raiders have caught a pass this season (including Cunningham). Wide receivers Jimmy Marshall and Jarrin Pierce lead the way with a combined 682 yards and 10 touchdowns.
The Blue Raiders conclude the regular season with five consecutive C-USA games, including three at home.
MTSU is fifth in the East at 1-2, but only one game separates the Blue Raiders from the four in front of them (Charlotte, Florida Atlantic, Western Kentucky, Marshall all are at 2-1).
MTSU has already defeated Marshall and still has to play FAU and Western. Having lost to Charlotte, the Blue Raiders don't control their own destiny, but the 49ers have five league games remaining as well, including Marshall and WKU.
MTSU 35, Southern Miss 10: MTSU has handled the underdogs well this season, and this game should be no different. The Blue Raiders have played well in their only two home games thus far, and the homecoming crowd should be a bonus. Expect Cunningham and the MTSU offense to put this one away early.
Reach Cecil Joyce at firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-278-5168 and on Twitter @Cecil_Joyce.