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Blue Raiders Set for First Home SBC Game

October 4, 2001 · MT Media Relations
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - The first Sun Belt Conference home game in school history is set for this Saturday when Middle Tennessee puts its seven-game winning streak on the line against Idaho. Kickoff is scheduled for 6 PM CST at Floyd Stadium where the Blue Raiders have not lost since 1999.

"We're excited to come back and play at home after two tough road wins," head coach Andy McCollum said. "We hope to see a big crowd on Saturday to help give us an edge against a very talented and explosive Idaho team. They are well coached and have played a tough schedule, so we are very aware of the challenge ahead of us."

The Blue Raiders (4-0; 2-0) bring the league's top scoring offense and scoring defense into this midseason showdown between the SBC's preseason favorites, while Idaho (0-4; 0-0) will be playing their first league game of the season and will fly nearly 2,000 miles to get to the -Boro.

The trio of quarterback Wes Counts, running back Dwone Hicks and wide receiver Kendall Newson lead the nation's fourth rated offense into this week's featured SBC game. Counts, Hicks and Newson have accounted for 17 of the team's 21 touchdowns this year, while ranking among the nationally leaders in various statistical categories.

The Blue Raider offense is churning out 525 yards per game and ranks third nationally in rushing offense and 13th in scoring offense. Hicks, who has 12 touchdowns on the season to stand second nationally in scoring, leads the SBC in rushing with 431 yards. Backup Reshard Lee, who was recently named the SBC Offensive Player of the Week, is averaging 10.0 yards per carry.

"So far this season we have done a good job of running the football," McCollum added. "When you can run the football, you can win games."

Counts, who needs four more touchdown passes to become the school's career leader, leads the league in passing, total offense and passing efficiency. The senior has connected on 68.6 percent of his passes and has thrown for five touchdowns. Counts has also showcased his versatility in the early part of the season by registering a receiving touchdown, a rushing touchdown and throwing for five scores.

Newson, who has caught at least one pass in 36 straight games, shares the SBC lead in receiving with Idaho's Chris Lacy. Newson has hauled in 21 passes for 258 yards and two touchdowns, but was held to only one catch last week at UL-Lafayette.

"We just weren't clicking last week," Newson said. "It was frustrating, but we found a way to win and that's what good teams do."

Defensively, the Blue Raiders are coming off one of their better efforts under McCollum. In the win over ULL, the defense forced four turnovers, threw a shutout in the second half and gave up only 105 yards on the ground. On the season, Middle Tennessee is ranked 26th nationally in rushing defense (106.75) and 31st in scoring defense (18.5).

Leading the defensive charge are linebackers Scotty Brown and Michael Woods and defensive back Jykine Bradley. Brown, a two-time Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Week, is pacing the team in tackles with 30 to go along with two sacks and an interception. Woods, a name many will hear a lot the next few years, has 19 tackles, including two for loss of yards.

Bradley, sixth nationally in interceptions per game, leads the Blue Raiders in interceptions (3) and pass deflections (5).

"Our defense continues to get better with each game," McCollum said. "But we will have to play our best game of the year against Idaho if we have any hopes of winning. We still have a long way to go and need to continue working hard on trying to get better."

QUICK HITTERS: This week's game will be shown live locally by Middle Tennessee's Student Television Station (channel 10) - Dwone Hicks has at least one rushing touchdown in four straight games - Middle Tennessee has forced at least one turnover in five straight home games - Andy McCollum has an all-time record of 9-2 at home - The receiving trio of Kendall Newson, Tyrone Calico and David Youell are the 12th best trio in the nation with a combined 12.0 catches per game - Middle Tennessee's seven-game winning streak is tied for the fifth longest in Division I-A football.

Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.