SBC Co-leaders clash Tuesday night
Blackout game to be televised nationally on ESPN2October 4, 2010 · Athletic Communications
MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Nearly all pre-season prognosticators picked Middle Tennessee and Troy as the favorites to win the 2010 Sun Belt Conference Championship, and for both teams to enter Tuesday night's 7 pm game in Floyd Stadium unbeaten in conference play. So far, they are right on as both the Blue Raiders and the Trojans enter the nationally-televised (ESPN2) game atop the SBC standings with 1-0 conference records.
One factor that no one had considered in the pre-season, however, is the four-game suspension of SBC Pre-Season Player of the Year Dwight Dasher from the Blue Raider lineup. Middle Tennessee has put together a 2-2 record thru the first four games without their senior quarterback at the helm. Even the minimally optimistic fans feel that the Raiders could have won all four games with Dasher.
Nevertheless, Dasher, who has not taken a snap since his record-setting appearance in the New Orleans Bowl last December, is back at his old job of directing the high-powered Blue Raider offense. Last season, Dasher became only the fourth player in NCAA history to pass for more than 2,500 yards and rush for at least 1,000 yards.
How he will fare against Troy is one of the unknowns, but he traditionally has not played well against the four-time conference champions, who have won the last four games against MTSU. But to his defense, he basically has only played against them extensively once and that came last year at Troy. Head Coach Rick Stockstill is concerned that Dasher might try to do too much.
"Dwight has been practicing with us throughout this process, and he has taken the majority of the reps since our last game," said Stockstill. "He cannot go out there and try to be Superman. He has good players around him, and he must play within the system."
This will be the 18th time the two schools have met on the football field, with Middle Tennessee winning the first eight games and holding an 11-6 edge in the series. Troy has rebounded to take the last four games, including the last two in Murfreesboro.
Middle Tennessee and Troy are very similar as both offenses are averaging over 30 points per game, but both defenses have struggled at times. Both teams are 2-2, but could easily be undefeated. Both teams have game-breaking superstars on offense in Dasher and Troy wide receiver Jerrel Jernigan. Jernigan was named the Sun Belt Conference Player of the Week for his performance in Troy's last-second, come-from-behind win over Arkansas State.
Both teams have excellent running backs. Middle will punch with Phillip Tanner, Benny Cunningham and D. D. Kyles, while Troy will counter with DuJuan Harris and Shawn Southward. Defensively, both the Blue Raiders and Trojans lost the bulk of their front seven from the league's two top defenses last year, and the first four games have been a period of learning and adjustments for both teams.
But Middle Tennessee made a huge improvement in last week's 34-14 win at ULL, led by senior defensive end Jamari Lattimore, who was named the SBC Defensive Player of the Week for his effort. He got a school record four sacks, seven tackles and forced a fumble. The Raider defense registered seven sacks, two shy of the school record, and shut out the Cajuns in the second half.
On the other side of the ball, Middle Tennessee's patchwork offensive line has done a great job so far, giving up only one sack so far this season, and pacing the Blue Raider running game, which leads the league at nearly 200 yards per game. The kicking game is strong for both teams. Troy's Michael Taylor leads the league in scoring with 42 points (10 FG and 12-13 extra points), while Middle Tennessee's Alan Gendreau is fourth with 28 points on four field goals, including a 55-yarder, and is perfect on 16 extra point attempts. He was named SBC Special Teams Player of the Week for his game against ULL, with his 55-yard FG being the second longest in both Sun Belt and school history. Blue Raider freshman punter Josh Davis leads the Sun Belt in punting with a 46.9 average.
Most observers feel the outcome of the game could well come down to the play of the respective quarterbacks and, of course, turnovers. Freshman QB Corey Robinson has been spectacular for the Trojans thus far, leading the league in passing with 311 yards per game, and is second in total offense. MTSU sophomore Logan Kilgore is sixth in total offense, but will give way to Dasher, who will begin compiling his stats against Troy.
Turnover have been a big problem for Middle Tennessee in the first three games with ten, but the Blue Raiders protected the ball much better against ULL with only one. Still, they are last in the league in the significant category of turnover margin at -7, while Troy ranks at the top with a +5.
Dave Neal (pxp) and Andre' Ware (analysis) will be in the booth for the ESPN2 telecast. The game will also be broadcast over the Blue Raider network with Chip Walters handling the play by play and Kelly Holcomb providing color analysis. Network Affiliates include WGNS 1450 AM, 101.5 FM and WMTS 89.5 FM in Murfreesboro, and WNSR 560 AM in Nashville. The game will also be available online at GoBlueRaiders.com.
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