Blue Raiders Set for Third Straight SEC Showdown

September 19, 2002 · J.P. Plant
As the Blue Raiders prepare to battle their third consecutive Southeastern Conference opponent Saturday in Kentucky, head coach Andy McCollum is focusing on two key components to improve on.

"First of all," McCollum said, "we need to get more physical. Secondly, we had too many opportunities that we didn't take advantage of against two of the top two teams in the country. You have to take advantage of opportunities."

Being physical is certainly a necessity when trying to corral the six-foot, four-inch, 275-pound starting quarterback Jared Lorenzen.

"He's a big guy and not easy to bring down," defensive back Muhammad Rashada said of Lorenzen. "You have to stay in coverage longer than usual and if he doesn't go down, he can run."

"He's [Lorenzen] athletic," McCollum said. "It's not like the guy is just sitting back there and can't move. He gets away and is very dangerous when he scrambles. He's an athletic quarterback who can hurt you in a lot of ways."

With Lorenzen trailing only Tim Couch in total offense and passing yardage all-time at Kentucky, the red-shirt junior from Ft. Thomas, Ky., certainly presents a challenge for the Blue Raider defense. Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, for defensive coordinator Steve Davis will be senior running back Artose Pinner, who is averaging 114.7 yards per game on the ground, tops in the SEC. Pinner is fresh off career highs in rushing and receiving yards with 141 and 92, respectively against Indiana.

"(Pinner) is a quality back," McCollum said. "He catches the ball well and does a tremendous job of getting yards after contact."

As far as the second component for improvement, Middle Tennessee certainly had its chances. Lost opportunities plagued the Blue Raiders in their first two contests. With just over three minutes remaining against Alabama, Middle had the football and the momentum until 'Bama linebacker, Freddie Roach, intercepted an Andrico Hines pass and returned it for a touchdown and the winning score. And in Knoxville at Neyland Stadium, a fumble near the goal line and a catch that was ruled out of bounds kept the Blue Raiders from changing the complexity of the game entirely. Replays went on to show that receiver Tyrone Calico was clearly in-bounds at the UT 1-yard line.

"We've got to execute and do the small things right," McCollum said. "Our biggest thing is executing and doing the things that Middle Tennessee has to do to be successful. When you play these teams in their stadium and in their environment," he added, "there is no room for error. We're not good enough to be anything but the best we can be."

"We made too many mistakes in the first two games," Calico said. "We have to execute more and finish in the red zone. The running game opens up the passing game and we haven't done that yet."

An indication the running game isn't where they would like it to be is that the quarterback is the leading rusher through two games. Hines has 112 yards on 27 attempts, while Heisman Trophy Candidate, Dwone Hicks has only 75 yards on 28 attempts.

Contrary to the Hal Mumme teams of the last few years, the Wildcats are gaining a bulk of their yards on the ground at a 195.3 per game clip, while going through the air for only six more yards per contest, a much more balanced attack than in the past.

The Blue Raiders have maintained their balanced attack from a year ago, but at a slightly lesser pace. Averaging only 141.5 yards on the ground and 155.5 yards through the air per game respectively, the offense doesn't appear to be clicking with the same rhythm as the unit that was fifth in the nation in total offense in 2001. However, in offensive coordinator Steve Campbell's offense, the competition this season is a bit stiffer as the Blue Raiders are playing the nation's third toughest schedule.

If you were to ask any coach or player what the biggest key to the 0-2 beginning to the season was, they would say the slow start.

"We've got to do a better job in the first quarter," McCollum said.

Defensive back Michael Woods added, "We can't fall behind in the first quarter and win this game. We have to do a better job at the start of the game."

Middle Tennessee has been outscored 36-0 in the first quarter. However, quarters two through four have seen the Blue Raiders outscore their opponents, 37-29.

The Blue Raiders will get their chance to put points on the board in the first quarter Saturday at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington before an expected crowd of around 62,000. Kickoff is set for 12:30 PM CST, and the weather forecast calls for a high temperature of 81 degrees and a 40 percent chance of morning thunderstorms.

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