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Defense excels on third down today

Team has one more two-a-day remaining

August 13, 2008 · Athletic Communications
  • Audio: Practice Report

    MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Getting off the field on third down is critical for any defense and keeping the chains moving in such situations is significant for an offense to enjoy sustained drives.

    Middle Tennessee football players on each side of the ball worked on third-down conversions for a long stretch during team work Wednesday and it was the defense that won the battles.

    Out of 15 third-and-7 plays, the defense was able to get off the field successfully 11 times.

    "When you play defense that is the situation you want," said senior defensive end Wes Hofacker. "Third-and-long, that's sack time. That's the time to get off the field and get our offense on the field. This year we have to do a better job of getting off the field on third down."

    Opponents were successful on 42 percent (71-of-169) of third-down conversions against Middle Tennessee in 2007, including a staggering 54 percent (21-of-39) in such situations in the third quarter.

    The defense; however, was particularly strong in third-and-long situations Wednesday, including getting off the field successfully on seven of the first eight plays - all third-and-7 plays. It should be noted that the quarterback Joe Craddock actually completed first-down passes to Wes Caldwell and Patrick Honeycutt, respectively, on the first two third-and-7 plays; however, the plays were blown dead prior to the pass coming out.

    "I thought the defense dominated the offense on third down," head coach Rick Stockstill said. "The offense may have been successful on three or four but not more than that out of 14 or 15 third-down snaps. Offensively, you are not going to win games converting three or four out of 14 or 15 on third down.

    "Opposite of that the defense did what you want to do and that's get off the field, that's your job, whatever you have to do, and I thought the defense did an excellent job of that."

    The Blue Raiders' offense converted just 34 percent (56-of-166) of its third-down opportunities in 2007 and the unit was chiefly unsuccessful after halftime when it was 23-of-83 for 28 percent.

    FIGHTING THROUGH IT: The Blue Raiders completed their 15th practice in 12 days Wednesday, including completing their third two-a-day in three days, and players have reached the point where they are fighting fatigue and mental breakdowns.

    No need for concern, though, as it is that way across the country in college football, especially this deep into preseason camp.

    "You are in the dog days of camp and the bodies are starting to get tired," Stockstill said. "The players are going to have to fight through camp these next three or four practices because their bodies are starting to feel the fatigue. There will ups-and-downs because we are so young and young guys have such a hard time getting through the mental part of camp. I think they will do fine physically but the mental part is what young guys have a problem with as you get deeper into camp."

    Sophomore quarterback Dwight Dasher, who is going through his second fall camp, said the mental fatigue is greater than the physical fatigue once camp reaches its second week, especially for the younger players.

    "There is just so much information to learn and every day there are new things being thrown at you," Dasher said. "I've been impressed with our new players and how they have adapted. The thing really hurting us right now are the injuries. Other than that, we are pushing along and getting better every day."

    Injuries, particularly on the offensive line, have forced the Blue Raider staff to alter some of its approach during preseason camp but the pace and tenacity of each workout has not been sacrificed.

    Middle Tennessee practiced in full pads for more than two hours Wednesday morning and returned to the field in shells for the late afternoon workout.

    "We are going a little shorter but we still have to find ways to have our toughness drills and scrimmages in there, but there is a fine line and we have to be careful with that right now," Stockstill said. "We can't back off of them completely because we are too young. If we were a junior or senior team they may be able to handle it but being a freshmen, sophomore team, we are not where we need to be from a toughness standpoint, mentally or physically."

    WHAT'S IT WORTH?: Defensive players at Middle Tennessee did a lot of soul searching following Tuesday's scrimmage.

    The unit did not perform at a level satisfactory to either it or the coaches but the defensive players bounced back with energy, attitude and enthusiasm Wednesday.

    And they drew some of their motivation from one of the greatest offensive players in the history of the NFL - quarterback Brett Favre.

    "We didn't have a good defensive practice (Tuesday) and afterwards we talked about how much money it would take for us never to play football again," Hofacker said. "We talked about the Brett Favre issue with him being offered $20 million (by the Green Pay Packers) to sit out. We talked about how he has a passion for the game to not sit out for $20 million. We had to decide what we are going to sell out for and we decided we are not going to sell out; we are going to have a passion for this game and do well this year."

    MORE INJURY NEWS: Sophomore offensive lineman Evon Lettsome has suffered a high ankle sprain and could miss three-to-four weeks. Lettsome's loss is the latest in a number of hits on the Blue Raider offensive line.

    The Blue Raiders are without linemen Mark Fisher (shoulder) and Jake Padrick (knee), who is out for the season, while two other offensive linemen quit during the first week of fall camp. Former Riverdale lineman Travis Lillenthal did not play a majority of the Tuesday scrimmage because of what has been described as a pulled groin.

    Middle Tennessee had just seven scholarship linemen available during Tuesday's scrimmage.

    WILDCARD WEEKNIGHT: Middle Tennessee is offering a special ticket package for the two weeknight home football games against Troy (Aug. 28) and Florida Atlantic (Sept. 30). The package costs $30 and includes a reserved seat for both games and a coupon for a hot dog and soft drink for each game. To order tickets, contact the MTSU Ticket Office at (615) 898-2103.

    LAST CALL: Tickets to Middle Tennessee's non-conference road games at Louisville, Kentucky and Mississippi State will be returned to the home schools in the near future. Any Blue Raider fans wanting to sit in the Middle Tennessee section at these road games must purchase their tickets through the Blue Raider Ticket Office. For tickets, call 1-888-YES-MTSU or access GoBlueRaiders.com site.

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