|Middle Tennessee fans will get a chance to check out one of the best, little-known rivalries in the South on ESPNU tonight when the Blue Raiders take on Western Kentucky.
The epic showdown will kick off tonight at 6:30 p.m.
MTSU will be wearing black jerseys as part of the university’s annual Blackout game, as it looks for a second consecutive win on the 2011 season.
Last week, the Blue Raiders came from behind against in-state foe, Memphis, and pulled off the 38-31 victory. It was the first win of the season for MTSU.
Both coaches know it will be an adjustment for the players because of this week’s short turnaround time allotted to prepare for this important conference game.
“I told our players they had to take care of their bodies earlier than usual this week,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said.
He added the short week only affected the preparation in terms of losing days for practice and meetings. But they were able to still get everything done like normal to get ready for this game.
The series between the Hilltoppers and the Blue Raiders dates all the way back to 1914. However, the teams did not play each other from 1992 to 2006.
Since WKU has joined the Sun Belt Conference in football a couple of years ago, the Blue Raiders have won the last three meetings, including a 27-26 thriller last season held in Bowling Green.
Both teams understand how big this game is in terms if bragging rites in the area.
“It means a lot for me, and it does for all of the guys,” WKU head coach Willie Taggart said, during the team’s weekly press conference Monday.
“This is a conference game, and we are looking to get a win,” he added. “We need [it] badly, and fortunately Middle Tennessee is the next team on the schedule. Middle Tennessee does not like us, and we do not like them. And it is good for out conference. It is good to have that rivalry and be able to go in and get excited to go out and take care of business. But we have to make it a rivalry. They have beaten us in the last three games, and we have to make it a rivalry by beating them.”
The Hilltoppers fell to 0-4 on the season after a 26-22 loss to Arkansas State at home.
It was another crushing conference loss for WKU. In seven out of the last nine SBC games the Hilltoppers either led or been tied entering the fourth quarter.
Five of the team’s seven SBC losses in the past two seasons have come by a combined 18 points, including the 2010 match up against the Blue Raiders.
In order to make four in a row over WKU, the Blue Raiders will look to stop one of the best running backs in the nation, Bobby Rainey.
The senior rushed for 248 yards last season against MTSU. However, Rainey’s streak of eight 100-yard rushing games in a row ended in the loss Saturday to the Red Wolves.
The Blue Raiders know they will have to stop Rainey to have a chance to win on Saturday.
“We’ve got to do a good job of tackling, and we got to get a lot of hats on him,” Stockstill said.
As for the Blue Raiders, sophomore quarterback Logan Kilgore continued his hot streak this season by already passing for more than 1,000 yards, after his 274 yards passing performance that was capped off with a 33-yard touchdown strike to Anthony Amos with 11 seconds left Saturday.
The Blue Raiders will be wearing the black jerseys for fifth time during Stockstill’s tenure with the school.
MTSU has had some special moments while wearing those uniforms, including a 14-13 win over Florida Atlantic in 2008, when the Blue Raiders won on a last-second, Hail Mary touchdown pass.
However, the Blue Raiders fell to Troy 42-13 in last season’s “Blackout” game.
The players think it’s cool to wear them.
“I’m excited to finally put it over my pads,” said Kilgore, who missed last year’s Blackout game because of an injury.