Blue Raider running back Benny Cunningham (2) runs past the Georgia Tech defense Sept. 29, 2012, in Atlanta, Ga. (Photo courtesy of MTSU Athletics)
It’s homecoming week for MTSU, and its opponent, University of Louisiana-Monroe, has been on the minds of the nation with three impressive performances against schools from BCS conferences.
Last week, the Blue Raiders received their own place in the spotlight with its impressive upset win at Georgia Tech. The nation will get another chance to see these teams meet on the gridiron Saturday, Oct. 6, in the Sun Belt Network Game of the Week.
The Blue Raiders were coming off two wins in a row, when they knocked off ACC foe Georgia Tech in dominating fashion, 49-28.
With that victory, MTSU already has more wins this season, three, than all of last year when the team finished 2-10.
Now, it steps back into Sun Belt play with arguably the biggest game in the league so far this season.
The Blue Raiders knows it has to put the Georgia Tech win behind them and get ready for a Warhawk team, which has one of the top offenses in the nation.
“We are excited to be back in conference play this week,” MTSU head coach Rick Stockstill said. “We got a heck of a team coming in here. It is a really talented football team on both sides of the ball. It’s going to be a heck of a challenge for us. We got to be ready to go.”
As for Louisiana-Monroe, it opened up the 2012 season with three consecutive games against programs from Bowl Championship Series conferences. Believe or not, the Warhawks almost won all three.
However, its biggest win in school history came on Sept. 8 when it went into Little Rock, Ark., and knocked off the then-No. 8 ranked Arkansas Razorbacks in overtime 34-31.
Arkansas has not won a game since that loss a few weeks ago.
Like the Blue Raiders last week, Louisiana-Monroe was put into the national spotlight after that win over the Razorbacks.
Since then, Louisiana-Monroe almost shocked the world not once but twice against its next two opponents.
On Sept. 15, the Warhawks lost in overtime at Auburn, 31-28. The following week, it fell at home in close contest against Baylor, 47-42, in which the entire nation got to view the thrilling game on ESPN.
Last week, it got back in the win column with a huge win over in-state foe, Tulane, 63-10.
However, this will be the conference opener for the Warhawks.
Louisiana-Monroe head coach Todd Berry said he is not focused on the past. Instead, he said his team is only worried about starting off conference action with a win.
“This is huge,” Berry said during Monday’s weekly teleconference. “We just want to start off well in conference play. It’s big for us, because I like where our team is mentally. We have not looked down the road, or looked back. We are just focused on going 1-0 in the SBC. Every game for us is more crucial.”
One of the reasons the Warhawks have been competitive against teams from power conferences is the play of junior quarterback Kolton Browning.
Currently, Browning is ranked 11th nationally in total offense averaging 340.8 yards through the air. He is also ranked seventh nationwide in passing. As for the Warhawks offense themselves, it is ranked 14th nationally in total offense as a team averaging 518.2 yards per game.
Since Stockstill took over the Blue Raider program in 2006, MTSU has only lost once to the Warhawks, and it happened last season with Louisiana-Monroe winning 42-14. MTSU looks to continue the trend after a well-rounded performance from both sides of the ball last week.
Senior running back Benny Cunningham was named SBC Offensive Player of the Week after rushing for five scores and 217 yards in the win.
The MTSU defense held the Georgia Tech third-ranked rushing offense to only 238 yards on the ground. The Blue Raiders front line also added four quarterback sacks.
This week, the Blue Raiders hope for the same performance as it tries to make it four wins in a row since the opening week 27-21 loss against McNeese State on Aug. 30.
“We got to stay the course,” Stockstill said. “We only have 10 seniors, but we have gotten great leadership from them. They brought in the message back in January. We have a great attitude and wonderful character on this team right now.”
Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. at Floyd Stadium.