Middle Tennessee Head Coach Looking Forward to Trip Back to Clemson

by - Senior Writer -
Former Clemson assistant Rick Stockstill says Middle Tennessee will not be intimidated by Death Valley on Saturday. (Photos: Icon SMI)

Middle Tennessee head coach Rich Stockstill roamed the sidelines at Clemson for 14 seasons, and when he returns to Death Valley for Saturday’s season opener against the Clemson Tigers, he will bring four assistant coaches with him that either coached or play for the Tigers.

Stockstill insists, however, that Saturday’s game will be less about him and his coaches and that the spotlight should shine on his Blue Raider players.

”I haven’t really even looked at it as a homecoming,” Stockstill said. “I told my staff this summer that I don’t want this game to be about me, or Les Herrin, or Willie Simmons, or Justin Watts, I want it to be about our players. We will be very excited to play there, and it will be a great challenge for us, but it has to be about our players, and this game giving us a good measuring stick of how we will match up with people in our own conference down the road.”

Stockstill did take a moment to remember his time at Clemson, and said that two different things stand out most from the others: Rod Gardner’s famous catch against South Carolina in 2000 and the win against Florida St. in Tallahassee in 1989.

”Probably the best moment was Rod’s catch against South Carolina, that is the one play that sticks out the most,” Stockstill said. “There were so many good games and good plays prior to that. But Rod making that catch down the sideline will always stand out to me. And that first year for me, under Coach Ford, when we went back to Florida St. and there. That was a great game. Those two things really stand out to me.”

In trying to build memories with his current group of players, Stockstill has had to take his Blue Raiders into some of college football’s most hostile environs, and he insists that Middle Tennessee will not be intimidated by Death Valley on Saturday.

”We have played Oklahoma, LSU, Kentucky, Louisville and some of the bigger schools, and we have to play three or four of those schools a year just so we can get paid,” Stockstill said. “So it helps tremendously that we went to Oklahoma and played in front of 80,000 people, and we went and played at LSU at night, and that is tough, no matter who you are. That place is a rocking and rolling stadium.

“So we have been in these games, and that helps a lot. We will just have to block out the crowd. Clemson has great fans, who are passionate and loud, but we have seen that before, so we just have to block that out and play with tunnel vision and a great mental intensity. We will just have to play it between the white lines.”

Stockstill also said that for the Blue Raiders to win on Saturday, they will have to play the perfect game and hope the Tigers come out less than motivated.

”For us to have a chance, we have to play our best game and then hope that Clemson doesn’t play up to their capabilities,” Stockstill said. “They are bigger than us, they are faster than us, and we don’t have anybody on our roster that Clemson recruited or offered, but that is ok. We will go in there and play with great effort and enthusiasm. Clemson will be a great challenge for us. We just have to play great and hope they don’t play like they are capable of playing.”

He also mentioned that his offense has no way of preparing for Clemson’s defense, and that they will have to learn under fire when Saturday arrives.

”You can talk about it all you want, but we can’t simulate what they have in practice,” Stockstill said. “We don’t have a Da’Quan Bowers or Ricky Sapp. We don’t have any of those guys running around, so we can’t simulate that in practice. But we have played in enough games to know that what we go against in practice is not the same as we will see on Saturday, which will be a step or two or three faster.”

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