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Blue Raiders ready to kickoff 2010 season

Host Big Ten foe Minnesota Thursday

September 1, 2010 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Not in recent memory has a Middle Tennessee football team opened a new season with such a smorgasbord of emotions and question marks as will the Blue Raiders when they host Minnesota on Thursday night at 6:30 to kick off the 2010 season.

It wasn't supposed to be that way. Coming off of a stellar 10-3 season and a New Orleans Bowl win last year, Middle Tennessee was riding a seven-game winning streak, third longest in the nation, was picked to win the Sun Belt Conference, and was receiving votes in the national polls.

Then record-setting senior quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended for a to-be-determined number of games, and will not play against the Golden Gophers. But that will not change anything about the team except bring them closer together.

"Dwight is a great player, but this team is much more than Dwight Dasher," said head coach Rick Stockstill. "We talk about having a chip on our shoulder. You want to be the best in America, and prove it every time you play. These players need this chip so they can prove this team is more than just Dwight Dasher."

Stockstill and the Blue Raiders will hang their helmets on sophomore Logan Kilgore to replace Dasher. Kilgore, who transferred from Bakersfield College in the spring, led Bakersfield to a 10-2 record and was named the National Northern Conference Offensive MVP. He passed for 2,512 yards and 22 touchdowns as a freshman. Backing up Kilgore will be another junior college transfer, junior Jeff Murphy, who enrolled this summer.

"Both of our quarterbacks are good enough to do what we want to do offensively. Neither will run the ball as much as Dwight, but both can run it. We will still run the ball with the quarterback, and our passing game will not change," declared Stockstill.

Minnesota, on the other hand, will counter with a veteran quarterback in Adam Weber, who will be making his 39th career start, a span that includes every game since he set foot on the Minnesota campus.

Kilgore will be throwing to a bevy of talented, experienced receivers. Veterans Garrett Andrews, Shane Blissard, Sancho McDonald, Malcolm Beyah, Tavarres Jefferson, and Harold Turner, as well as lightning-quick newcomer Tyler Mason, will be part of a 12-15 man rotation among the receivers.

Middle Tennessee's offensive line is two-deep with veterans, despite some nagging injuries. Senior right tackle Mark Fisher will be starting his 36th game, and is the leader of the group that includes center Colin Boss, guards Brandon McLeroy and Preston Bailey, and left tackle Mike Williams.

Middle Tennessee was successful last year with an undersized but quick defense. Minnesota's huge offensive line, however, is a concern. The feeling is that the Golden Gophers will run a one-back offense and try to overpower the smaller Blue Raiders up front.

Blue Raider senior defensive tackle Dwight Smith, starting for the third straight season, is very impressed with what he has seen of Minnesota on tape.

"The 'Big' in the Big Ten is true," Smith added. " They do have big players up front, and return all of their offensive line. People see our size and think we are going to roll over, but we take it as a challenge. I feel if we play correct technique, we can have some success."

The strength of the Middle Tennessee defense is the veteran secondary. Seniors Jeremy Kellem, Rod Isaac and Kevin Brown have 78 career starts between them, and all have earned All-Sun Belt Conference recognition in the last two years.

Record-setting Alan Gendreau, the team's leading scorer in 2009, returns as a potent scoring threat whenever the Blue Raiders get inside the enemy 35 yard line. The Blue Raiders, however, will have a new punter, long snapper, holder and return man this season.

Kickoff will be at 6:30 pm, with the game to be televised nationally on ESPNU. Anish Shroff will do play-by-play, while Jay Walker will serve as color analyst.

The Blue Raider Network will have veterans Chip Walters and Kelly Holcomb in the booth, along with veteran spotter Wayne Groce and engineer Bob Saunders.

Affiliates on the Blue Raider Network include WGNS-AM 1450, 101.9 FM and WMOT- 89.5 FM, all in Murfreesboro, WNSR 560AM in Nashville and 103.9 FM in Bowling Green, Ky.

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