Roderic Blunt (L) makes a tackle in Monday's game (USA TODAY Sports Images)
Middle Tennessee's Roderic Blunt was one of three MTSU players who received unsportsmanlike conduct penalties in Monday's Armed Forces Bowl, but his coach defended him after the game.
“(Dirty) is not his character. I don’t know how they portrayed (Blunt),” Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill said. “We have had three (unsportsmanlike) personal fouls on defense the entire year, and two of them were today. So for someone to say (Blunt) is a dirty player doesn’t know this program, doesn’t know this defense. There were personal fouls out there on both sides.
“They can portray him however they want. But I’ve known Rod for five years. I know his dad. I coached his dad (running back Rodney Blunt) at Clemson. I know what kind of family he has. I know what kind of character he has, and he’s not (dirty).”
Blunt received two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and was ejected from the game. He was also involved in a hit that forced Navy quarterback Keenan Reynolds to leave the game for a few plays after he was poked in the eye. Replays were inconclusive; Blunt's hand was shown moving above Reynolds' chest before it disappeared into the scrum, but ESPN's announcing crew seemed inclined to think there was an intentional eye gouge.
Navy's equipment staff subsequently attached a visor to Reynolds' helmet.
Safety Xavier Walker was also penalized for taunting the Navy sideline after Navy picked up a fourth and one by a clear two yards. Of the eight penalties called in the game (six for MTSU and two for Navy), five were personal fouls.
“I feel like both teams kind of got out of hand. There was too much shoving, too much talking,” MTSU safety Kevin Byard said. “It was a little chippy, but that’s football. It was that stage of the game. It was a bowl game, and everyone wanted it so bad.
“It wasn’t Rod. It was guys on both sides. Every player was doing too much talking. That’s the game of football.”
Navy safety Wave Ryder was also ejected from the game after a very questionable targeting penalty was upheld on replay. The Midshipmen pulled away from the Blue Raiders in the second half to win the game 24-6.
After watching replays of the game, Stockstill issued this statement on Tuesday.
“After seeing the replay of the game, I saw things that I was unable to see live from the sideline. I have called Navy Head Coach Ken Niumatalolo, quarterback Keenan Reynolds, and Brant Ringler, the executive director of the Bell Helicopter Armed Forces Bowl, and apologized for Roderic Blunt’s actions," Stockstill said.
“I have strived to run a first-class program and I do not condone this type of play. We have shown a history of good sportsmanship and, this season, we ranked as the ninth-least penalized team in the country. We were called for just one defensive personal foul penalty prior to the bowl game.
“I understand the game of football and what goes on out on the field, but there is no place for that type of behavior. It was a very emotional game for both sides, played with a lot of passion and sometimes players get caught up in that emotion. However, the bottom line is we hold ourselves to high standards and we expect our players to be good representatives of our university.
“Roderic knows the consequences of his actions. As head coach, I will take steps to ensure our team understands the importance of proper behavior and the conduct we expect as Blue Raiders.”
Blunt also issued a statement.
“I would like to apologize to my team, coaching staff, Navy, and most importantly, Keenan Reynolds for my actions Monday," Blunt said. "I accept responsibility and the consequences of my actions. It was my last college game and emotions were at an all-time high. But there is still no excuse for my actions and know this is not a reflection of Blue Raider football.”
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