MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - There's little an offensive play-caller can offer in the way of surprise after running more than 90 offensive plays, so MTSU offensive coordinator Buster Faulkner and quarterback Logan Kilgore's last-second trick was that there wasn't one.
"That's the thing you've got to fight as a play-caller. You think, 'surely that won't work again.' You always want to go to something else. Tonight all the offensive coaches on the headsets kept saying, 'stay with it, stay with it,'" Faulkner said.
"It" ended up being a lot of things for MTSU, who rallied to shock C-USA East leader Marshall 51-49 over the course of 17 total offensive drives. On the Blue Raiders' 100th offensive play of the night, they showed both a formation and play they'd already called multiple times, and on his second read, Kilgore completed a nine-yard touchdown pass to Tavarres Jefferson in the middle of the end zone as time expired. It was the sixth time in the 13-play drive Kilgore targeted Jefferson.
"We didn't draw up any fancy plays or try to do anything special. After losing three straight, we just wanted to get back to having fun," Kilgore said after the game.
The two teams, both in the top five nationally last season in total plays run, combined for 178 plays and 100 points (the national leader in plays per game, Cal, has averaged 89.7). But while both Kilgore (22-40, 277 yards, four touchdowns, one interception) and Marshall's Rakeem Cato (19-35, 235 yards, three touchdowns, one interception) were proficient through the air, the difference came in the ground attack of the Blue Raiders. After scoring only 24 total points in three consecutive losses, MTSU exploded, running for 308 yards in what became a paradoxical hurry-up-and-grind offense.
Faulkner said that the added emphasis of a three-back diamond formation wasn't an adjustment to Marshall's defense, but a self-correction to Middle's offense made over the bye week. At one point the Blue Raiders ran the ball 21 consecutive times across multiple drives, creating a pair of 100-yard rushers in Jordan Parker and Reggie Whatley.
"Is that how many it was?" Faulkner asked after the game. "Well, we did make a conscious effort to go back to fundamentals. We wanted to establish the run. We were going to stay with it pretty much no matter what."
Faulkner said it was the first time he could recall MTSU breaking the 100-play mark.
"I think I was exhausted at the end of the game, and that's the way we want it," Kilgore said. "Fitness wasn't an issue, though. We weren't tired when it was happening."
"I know we have that capability. This is the first time in a while we've been able to sustain drives. To run 100 plays, it doesn't matter how fast you go, you have to make first downs," head coach Rick Stockstill said.
MTSU was an average 10 of 20 on third down conversions, but was 4 of 5 on fourth downs, three of which were converted by inside runs. MTSU finished the night averaging 5.3 yards a carry.
"When you can run the ball like that, no, it certainly doesn't surprise me that we can run that many plays," Stockstill said.