Blue Raiders limp into Louisiana to open Sun Belt play
Kickoff set for 6 PM SaturdaySeptember 24, 2010 · Athletic Communications
LAFAYETTE, LA - Opening Sun Belt Conference play on the road is never easy, and for Middle Tennessee, playing in Lafayette, LA anytime is an equally daunting task. Nevertheless, that is the challenge that faces the Blue Raiders (1-2) on Saturday night as they take on Louisiana (1-1) in a 6 pm encounter.
Middle Tennessee has lost five of the last seven games vs. ULL, and has a 2-3 record in Lafayette.
Picked by the league coaches to win the Sun Belt Conference title this season, the Blue Raiders have struggled in the early going as injuries and off-campus activities have altered the direction of the 2010 season.
For Middle Tennessee, the suspension of senior quarterback Dwight Dasher, the league's choice for pre-season Player of the Year, compounded with a rash of injuries to what had been a veteran offensive line, has geared down the potent Blue Raider offense.
With Dasher's appeal to the NCAA denied, Middle Tennessee will start either junior Jeff Murphy or sophomore Logan Kilgore against ULL. Head Coach Rick Stockstill has indicated the choice of his starter will be a game-time decision.
Injuries to O-line starters Alex Stuart, Brandon McLeroy and Mark Fisher have forced several newcomers into action. Colin Boss, who backed up three positions, is now at center, and redshirt freshmen Josh Walker and Jadareius Hamlin will fill in for McLeroy and Fisher.
Stockstill is concerned with Dasher's suspension and the injuries, he is more upset about the recent tendency to turn the ball over, a trait that has not been characteristic of his teams. In three games, Middle Tennessee has turned the ball over ten times (five interceptions, five fumbles) and has forced only two turnovers, both interceptions, so far this season. Middle Tennessee is last in the nation in turnover margin per game (-2.67) after being ranked 8th nationally in 2009 and 12th in 2007.
"To me that is the most disappointing thing so far. You can't control things like injuries, but you can control turnovers, and we haven't been protecting the ball," said Stockstill. "If you don't protect the ball, you don't deserve to win."
All is not bleak, however, as the defense is starting to show some of the characteristics that contributed to a ten-win season in 2009.
"We are still not where we want to be right now, but we are a lot closer than we were three weeks ago," said senior defensive tackle Dwight Smith. "We are coming together."
And the rushing attack, despite the problems in the offensive line, is tops in the Sun Belt at 188.7 yards per game and nine touchdowns, while the Blue Raiders are also third in total offense (429 yds/game) and scoring (30.0 ppg).
Special teams have also played well in most situations. Freshman walk-on punter Josh Davis was named SBC Special Teams Player of the Week for setting a new school record for one game with an average of 59.8 yards. His 78-yard punt in the second quarter against Memphis turned the field around for the Blue Raiders. He also had punts of 57, 53 and 51 yards, and three of them were downed inside the Memphis 20-yard line.
Junior placekicker Alan Gendreau continues his assault on the Middle Tennessee record book as he needs only two more points to move into the top ten for career scoring. He has already hit 2 of 3 field goals this season to tie Colby Smith for sixth place in career field goals. He's hit 12 of 12 extra points this season, and is now 94 of 95 in PAT attempts for his career.
The Middle Tennessee-ULL game will be broadcast live over the Blue Raider Network with Chip Walters (play-by-play) and Kelly Holcomb (color analyst) on the air. Jonathan Shaffer is the producer. BRN affiliates are Nashville flagship WNSR 560 AM, and Murfreesboro flagships WGNS 1450 AM and WMOT 89.5 FM. The game may also be heard on the internet at GoBlueRaiders.com and live video will be provided at RajunCajuns.com.
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