Stopping triple option will be key as Blue Raiders visit Georgia Tech

Kickoff set for 2:30 PM on ESPN3.com

October 15, 2010 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee's game with Georgia Tech on Saturday has been on the schedule for two years, and every defensive coach on the staff has watched this game with the defending Atlantic Coast Conference champions edge closer week by week. Now its game time, with kickoff set for Bobby Dodd Stadium in Atlanta at 2:30 pm CDT.

The game will be televised on ESPN3.com, and aired on the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters (play-by-play) and Kelly Holcomb (analyst) in the booth. Bob Saunders is the producer.

Why the unusual interest in playing an out-of-conference opponent? It's because the Yellow Jackets are one of only three teams in the country that use the Triple Option at the BCS level. Navy and Air Force are the other two. It is an offense that requires maximum discipline from any defense trying to stop it.

Head Coach Rick Stockstill said his Blue Raiders practiced a lot this week without the ball. "We showed our defense their plays without a ball at first. We have to do a good job of being fundamentally sound. You have to be disciplined and go thru your keys. You have to be gap sound as well as fundamentally sound."

Defensive line coach John Palermo, whose troops will be the point of attack for Tech, put it in simpler terms. "We have to play better than Georgia Tech. We have to tackle better than Georgia Tech runs. We have to be fundamentally sound, or they will run us off the field."

Palermo has been coaching the Blue Raider defense in assignment football ever since he stepped on campus, and it is coming into focus.

"We are not quite there yet, but we are very close. When it all comes together, it is going to be a pretty sight," said senior defensive end Emmanuel Perez.

Senior defensive tackle Dwight Smith agreed, but brought up another key to stopping the triple option. "It's going to be different from our normal attacking defense. In fact, we are going to have to slow down and execute the game plan because tackling becomes so important. There will be a lot of one-on-one tackling situations. We must tackle well to stop them."

Linebackers and defensive backs are just as critical, and will also have to adjust to the Tech offense.

"We cannot give up big plays in the passing game," declared Stockstill. "Tech is going to grind it out and get their runs, but what really hurts is when they run the dive, then fake it and throw the post for a touchdown. We have to be alert, we have to tackle well and we have to be able to tackle in space."

Tech has the two leading rushers in the ACC in quarterback Joshua Nesbitt and transfer Anthony Allen, who faced the Blue Raiders two years ago at Louisville. Nesbitt is a four-year starter who can both run and pass, and the Tech defense is big and physical.

On Middle Tennessee's side of the ball, the Blue Raiders will have the luxury of starting the same quarterback in back-to-back games for the first time this year. Senior Dwight Dasher, who missed the first four games, will return to his home state to play for the first time in his collegiate career. He will be one of 24 players on the Blue Raider roster from the Peach State.

"The Georgia guys are really looking forward to it," said Stockstill. "Their families appreciate it more because they do not have to travel as far. It will also add a little juice to the game."

With Dasher having nearly a full game under his belt to knock the rust off, he could very well energize the Blue Raider offense which needs jump-starting after a sub-par performance against Troy last week. Consistency will be the key, and Dasher hopes to provide that.

He will be throwing to a group of receivers that has a lot of new faces since last year, but veterans like Garrett Andrews, Malcolm Beyah, Harold Turner and Sancho McDonald will provide familiar targets for Dasher.

And more good news for the offense is the return of senior Mark Fisher to the offensive line. Fisher played against Troy last week, but was not at full speed. Both he and junior Brandon McLeroy should be much healthier than they have been since the season opener.

Senior Phillip Tanner, junior D. D. Kyles and sophomore Bennie Cunningham have shared the rushing duties for Middle Tennessee so far this year. Tanner has been the workhorse, with 324 yards and five touchdowns, followed by Kyles (217/4) and Cunningham (168/1).

Field position will be key as well, and Middle Tennessee's punting tandem of freshman Josh Davis and junior Nathaniel Toulson have been spectacular this season. Davis averaged 46.8 yards against Troy and placed five punts inside the opponent's 20 yard line. Toulson has punted nine times for a 39.3 average, but has dropped five of them inside the opponent's five yard line.

Junior Alan Gendreau has maintained his assault on the career record books, hitting 4-5 field goals, including a 55-yarder against ULL, and 17-18 extra points.

Middle Tennessee and Georgia Tech have never met on the gridiron, but the Blue Raiders have played several other ACC schools in the past, posting two wins over Maryland and a near-miss against Virginia in the Stockstill era. Georgia Tech has never played a Sun Belt Conference school until this weekend. The Yellow Jackets will play in Murfreesboro in 2011.

Blue Raider Network affiliates include WGNS AM 1450, WMOT-FM 89.5 in Murfreesboro, and Nashville flagship WNSR-AM 560. The BRN broadcast is also available on line at GoBlueRaiders.com.

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