HUNTINGTON — After watching film of Middle Tennessee this week, there is one definitive for the Marshall defense.
When No. 8 in blue is on the field, he is a problem.
The talented player donning the No. 8 is Middle Tennessee wide receiver Ty Lee, a consistent target in many areas who has been a thorn in the side of the opposition for years.
Last week, Lee set the Middle Tennessee record by catching a pass in his 44th straight game, which also makes him the active leader in FBS as the Blue Raiders (1-3) get set to host Marshall (2-2) at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday.
“They have great skill kids on the perimeter with Lee,” Marshall head coach Doc Holliday said. “It seems like he’s been there forever.”
Lee has played prominently in the past three years against the Herd, catching no fewer than four passes in any contest against Marshall.
In the Herd’s last trip to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, in 2017, Lee was the lone bright spot for the Blue Raiders, catching four passes for 95 yards in Marshall’s 38-10 win.
Now, the veteran wide receiver is aiding the maturation of quarterback Asher O’Hara, serving as a primary target for the Blue Raiders’ passing game.
Lee is not the prototypical outside receiver, standing at only 5-foot-9. However, in Tony Franklin’s system, Lee is the perfect weapon as the Blue Raiders look to get the ball to their shifty receivers in space.
“They put them in space and they make you defend the whole field,” Marshall defensive coordinator Brad Lambert said. “They do a good job pushing the ball downfield, but they also do a good job horizontally with the game. They make you defend the whole field and that’s the trick — you’ve got to make sure you’re in the right place and be a really good tackler in the open field.”
Lee has seen time as an outside receiver, slot receiver, they’ve brought him in motion and utilized him as a runner.
The Biletnikoff Award Watch List honoree has now added to his arsenal as a kick returner and punt returner for the Blue Raiders.
Especially in the kick coverage game — where Marshall has struggled in the past three weeks — getting Lee to the ground is a must for the Herd because one seam and he can go the distance.
Middle Tennessee will especially look to get Lee involved early on Saturday due to his lack of presence in each of the last two contests.
In losses to Duke and Iowa, Lee was limited to 19 and 16 yards, respectively. It comes as no surprise that both of those games were lopsided defeats for the Blue Raiders.
For Middle Tennessee, establishing Lee as a threat early could open up the rest of the offense — an offense that needs it after putting up just 18 points in the last seven quarters (all of which came with each game in hand).
Given Marshall’s difficulties in one-on-one situations last week against Cincinnati, Lee seems like a prime candidate for Franklin to try and get into space this week against the Herd.
For Lambert, Lee is a microcosm of the entire team, which is made up of undersized, but tough players.
“Whether it’s the quarterback, running back, the O-line, I think that’s kind of where they are,” Lambert said. “They are a little bit smaller, but they are really a physical group.”