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Sun, Apr 20, 2014

HALE: Motivation no problem for Blue Raiders

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With so many bowl games (35) available for your viewing pleasure during the holidays, you often get a mixed bag when it comes to the product on the field.

Typically, the team which truly embraces the bowl and is excited to play will come out on top.

Too many times, however, you’ll see teams show up in body only. Take USC last year, for example, when it acted like a bunch of classless fools when it faced Georgia Tech in the Sun Bowl.

Then again, USC was coached by Lane Kiffin. Enough said.

The result was predictable as Georgia Tech, a team MTSU beat by 21 points earlier in the season, whipped the Trojans 21-7.

We’ll see other examples this year where one particular team just isn’t in it. Such teams are just ready to see their season end.

However, you won’t find such a scenario on Monday when MTSU faces Navy in the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl in Fort Worth, Texas.

When you think of any service academy football team, you immediately think of discipline, heart and desire. Navy fits right into that category.

And considering the Midshipmen will be representing their program in the Armed Services Bowl, one knows they don’t want to disappoint.

MTSU, meanwhile, went 8-4 last season and got the proverbial snub as not one single bowl came calling when the berths were awarded.

It was a bitter pill to swallow. It wasn’t as if MTSU limped into bowl eligibility with a 6-6 record.

After a lot speculation and eventual dialogue between two other conferences, it was agreed that MTSU would be a good fit for Monday’s Armed Forces Bowl.

Motivational problems for MTSU? I think not. The Blue Raiders have a large senior class that is leaving quite a legacy.

The fifth-year seniors were part of program that was bowl eligible four times in five years. The remaining seniors have been part of FBS history as well as MTSU has won 16 games to date in the past two years.

So, here we go – a matchup of two 8-4 teams who figure to play at a high level and compete until the final horn sounds.

MTSU will be facing an outstanding option team in Navy, led by sophomore quarterback and Nashville native Keenan Reynolds, who has rushed for 1,260 yards. He set a new NCAA record for quarterbacks this season with 29 rushing touchdowns.

Additionally, Navy committed just four turnovers all season. Again, it goes back to discipline and the fundamentals.

“(Reynolds) is one of best decision makers in college football,” said MTSU coach Rick Stockstill. “Navy is very disciplined in what they do. They had the fewest three-and-outs in college football this year.

“You’ve got to be very sound defensively and you have to go execute your assignment on every play. They’ve got a great offense.”

Perhaps the extra preparation for Navy’s offense will aid the Blue Raiders. They haven’t faced a true option team since the Georgia Tech game last year.

MTSU’s offense also needs to be efficient because you don’t get too many opportunities against Navy. Stockstill noted the Midshipmen average less than 10 possessions a game, meaning their opponent’s offensive opportunities are limited.

Navy is about a touchdown favorite. It should be a good football game, and with a morning start (10:45), a great way to kick off a long college football bowl week.

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Armed Forces Bowl, Blue Raiders, Football, MTSU, Sports
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