MONTGOMERY – Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State held morning workouts on Thursday and both teams toured the Rosa Parks Library and Museum in downtown Montgomery.
Middle Tennessee held a two-hour workout on the Alabama State University campus. Head Coach Rick Stockstill has been pleased with his team’s work since arriving on Tuesday afternoon.
“It’s repetition right now,” Stockstill said. “Today is a different type practice for us (on) Thursdays. We’ve had eight days now since we’ve started practice so it’s a little bit more time than you get in a normal week and you’re not going to do a lot of different things, anyway, leading up to a bowl game, especially with this quick of a turnaround from when we had our last game so you’ve got to try to improve fundamentally and get more confidence in your game plan and what you’re doing.”
Arkansas State practiced for two hours in full pads at Huntingdon College. After a conditioning day on Wednesday, the Red Wolves moved into their regular Thursday-Friday-Saturday cycle this morning.
The two teams also spent part of the day at the Rosa Parks Library and Museum.
“Anytime you get an opportunity to go back and study history you should take advantage of it.” A-State head coach Blake Anderson said. “Anytime we get a chance to get out and learn about the sacrifices people made, I want to make sure we take advantage of that. We’ve done that every location we’ve been and taken advantage of what they have to offer. I think these kinds of experiences bring the team closer together and give us memories that we’ll have forever. It’s not all about football for us because we want to build friendships, relationships, and have experiences we might not have had otherwise.”
Middle Tennessee and Arkansas State will both hold workouts at the historic Cramton Bowl on Friday. Both head coaches will also meet with the media at the Camellia Bowl Press Conference at the Cramton Bowl Multiplex.
Arkansas State senior defensive back/kick returner Blaise Taylor was named to the 2017 National Football Foundation National Scholar Athlete Class on Thursday.
Taylor was named First-Team All-Sun Belt Conference on defense and Third-Team All-Sun Belt Conference on special teams this season.
On defense, he played in all 11 games and recorded 31 tackles, 13 passes defended, 4.5 tackles for loss (minus-10 yards) and two interceptions. He ranks second in the Sun Belt Conference and 14th nationally with 1.4 PBUs per game.
On special teams, he had 25 punt returns for 336 yards (13.4 average) and one touchdown. He leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks fifth nationally with a 13.4 return average. He also leads the Sun Belt Conference and ranks 10th nationally with one punt return touchdown. Taylor opened the season with a 63-yard punt return TD at Nebraska on Sept. 2.
Middle Tennessee was one of seven FBS football programs to share the American Football Coaches Association’s 2017 Academic Achievement Award, presented by the Touchdown Club of Memphis. Alabama, Cincinnati, Northwestern, Utah, Utah State and Virginia were also honored.
All seven schools recorded a 100 percent graduation rate for members of its freshman football student-athlete class of 2010. Middle Tennessee, Alabama, Cincinnati, Utah and Utah State are receiving the award for the first time. This is Northwestern’s 10th honor and Virginia’s third.
The award will be presented during the Honors Luncheon on Monday, Jan. 8, at the 2018 AFCA Convention in Charlotte, North Carolina.
MIDDLE TENNESSEE GREATER THAN CLEMSON?
The Clemson Tigers (12-1) are the No. 1 team in the College Football Playoff rankings.
Middle Tennessee did something this season that Clemson could not accomplish.
The Blue Raiders defeated Syracuse 30-23 in the Carrier Dome on Sept. 9. The Blue Raiders scored two fourth quarter touchdowns for the win over the Orangemen. Senior QB Brent Stockstill threw two TD passes in the final 15 minutes. He had a 48-yard TD pass to Ty Lee to give the Blue Raiders a 23-16 lead with 14:53 left. Syracuse tied the game at 23-23 with 11:07 left in the game. Middle Tennessee answered as Stockstill engineered a game-winning drive. He fired a 10-yard game-winning TD pass to Shane Tucker with 6:46 left for the 30-23 win.
“I’ve said it all year, that was the last time this team was healthy,” Stockstill said. “We went up on the road and beat Syracuse, so it’s a great reinforcement that we’re a great team. But we never fielded the same team after that. We’re a little bit closer now to what we were then, but we’re still not that same team. But, yeah, that game, I’ve always looked back on and if we were able to stay healthy, or just somewhat healthy – we got decimated this year – that game is a great reminder of the potential of this team.”
Clemson, ranked No. 2 at the time, lost at Syracuse 27-24 on Friday, Oct. 13. The Tigers played a portion the game without starting QB Kelly Bryant. Cole Murphy’s 30-yard field goal with 9:41 left in the game provided the Orangemen with the winning points.
The win over Syracuse is nothing new to Middle Tennessee, who has beaten a number of Power 5 teams under Stockstill.
“We went to Missouri and beat them last year and Georgia Tech a couple of years before that and Maryland twice. So we’ve had some great wins in this program. We play the hardest schedule in the conference. You’ve got to man up and play it.”
FORMER BAMA PLAYER BACK IN MONTGOMERY
Arkansas State defensive lineman Dee Liner is back in his home state for his final college football game.
The former Muscle Shoals product is an honorable mention All-Sun Belt Conference selection this season after recording 19 tackles, five tackles for loss (minus-12 yards), one pass breakup and one quarterback pressure.
Liner originally committed to Auburn, but changed his mind when Tigers coach Gene Chizik was let go.
“I was committed to Auburn since my sophomore year of high school and when they let Coach (Gene) Chizik and Coach Trooper (Taylor) go, I went on to ‘Bama,” Liner said. “It didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out at ‘Bama, so I found out Coach Trooper was at Arkansas State, hit him up, and came for a visit and I liked it.”
Liner played in four games over two seasons (2013-14) with the Crimson Tide before deciding to transfer.
“There are a lot of five-stars on their bench,” Liner added. “Everybody can’t play. It just didn’t work out the way I wanted it to work out. I felt like I was supposed to be on the field, man, but it just didn’t work out so I asked for my release papers.”
Liner reconnected with Taylor, who serves as A-State’s assistant head coach and cornerbacks coach. He does not regret the decision.
“I fit right in. I’m talking about since the first day I’ve been on campus. Ever since then, we’ve been brothers.”
MIDDLE TENNESSEE-ARKANSAS STATE SERIES:
Middle Tennessee holds a 9-5 lead in a series that dates back to the 1948 season. The Blue Raiders and Red Wolves played a home-and-home series in 1948 and 1949, with the Blue Raiders winning both games. Middle Tennessee posted a 14-7 win in Murfreesboro in 1948 and added a 25-12 win in Jonesboro in the following year.
The two teams were Sun Belt Conference rivals from 2001-12. Middle Tennessee went 7-5 in those 12 meetings. Middle Tennessee posted a lopsided 54-6 win in the first meeting as Sun Belt foes in 2001. A-State posted a 13-7 win in Jonesboro in 2002.
The Blue Raiders turned in a five-game series winning streak from 2003-07. Middle Tennessee outscored A-State, 176-52 in those five games. Arkansas State snapped its losing streak with a 31-14 win in 2008. Middle Tennessee posted a 38-14 win over A-State in 2009.
Arkansas State has won the last three meetings by lopsided margins. The Red Wolves have outscored the Blue Raiders 141-43 in those three games. A-State beat Middle Tennessee 45-0 in the last meeting on Dec. 1, 2012 in Jonesboro.