Blue Raiders host hot ULM Saturday to begin second half of season

Annual Homecoming game kicks off at 3:32 PM

October 22, 2010 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - Middle Tennessee and ULM each hope to take a big step toward finishing the 2010 season with a flourish when the two Sun Belt Conference teams tangle Saturday afternoon on Horace Jones Field in the annual Homecoming game for the Blue Raiders. Game time is set for 3:30 pm CDT.

Broadcast of the game will be on the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters (play-by-play) and Kelly Holcomb (analyst) in the booth, while Bob Saunders will be the producer. The game will also be televised on ESPN3.com, as well as ESPN GamePlan (ESPN PPV Channel 5), taking an audio feed from the BRN. The game will also be broadcast live on DirectTV 792 and can be seen tape delayed on Tuesday at 7 PM on Comcast Cable 176.

So far this season, the Warhawks have had the most success, with a 3-3 record and 2-1 mark in Sun Belt play, while Middle Tennessee is 2-4 overall and 1-1 in the conference.

After losing three of their first four games, including road games at nationally-ranked Arkansas and Auburn, ULM has righted its ship and has back-to-back wins over Florida Atlantic and Western Kentucky. Middle Tennessee, meanwhile, has dropped its last two outings to Troy and Georgia Tech.

Turnovers, one of the things that Coach Rick Stockstill's teams have normally managed to avoid, have swamped the Blue Raiders this season, and correcting that will be priority No. 1.

"When we have been able to protect the ball, we have moved it. That is how you win and lose. We have got to get that corrected," said Stockstill. In 2009, the Blue Raiders were eighth in the nation in turnover ratio, but are 120th, dead last in Division I, in 2010.

All six of the remaining games this season are Sun Belt Conference games, so each is important. Stockstill, as is his custom, will take them one at a time.

"We have to have tunnel vision the rest of the way," Stockstill declared. "As soon as you start looking ahead two or three games, and start thinking you have to do this or do that, you stub your toe. From now on, it's a one-game season."

Stockstill is much more concerned about trying to beat ULM than he is at looking backward at the first half of the season. "Last year at this time, we were 1-1 in the conference, which is what we are now. This week it is paramount that we concentrate on us. We have to get better, we have to force turnovers, and make explosive plays that we haven't been able to create this year."

ULM will bring a young team, with 22 freshmen or sophomores, including nine starters, on the Warhawk's two-deep chart . They have been energized by two straight wins, including scoring 28 points in the 4th quarter to beat Western Kentucky, 35-30, in Bowling Green last week.

Led by freshman quarterback Kolton Browning, who has thrown for 1,283 yards in six games, and is averaging 252.3 yards of total offense per game, the Warhawks come to town with an abundance of confidence for Saturday's game.

Another freshman, Jyruss Edwards, along with Frank Goodin, a pre-season All-SBC running back, head the Warhawk's ground game, and ULM also has good receivers that allow them to retain control of the ball on offense. One of them is Luther Ambrose, who finished third in the NCAA 100 meters this past spring.

Middle Tennessee will counter with a senior-laden defense that has gotten better each week, and now seems poised to make a strong showing. Junior linebacker Darin Davis, one of only three non-senior starters, has been playing well lately. He has 32 tackles, five tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks in six games.

With Browning throwing the ball all over the field, the Blue Raider defensive backs, generally recognized as the strongest unit on the team, will have a real challenge this week. Seniors Rod Isaac, Jeremy Kellem and Kevin Brown have all gained All-Sun Belt recognition in the past.

With All-SBC place kicker Alan Gendreau, punters Josh Davis and Nathaniel Toulson, and return specialist Eric Russell, the Blue Raiders have game-changing capabilities on special teams.

On offense, the big question marks are still senior quarterback Dwight Dasher and injuries along the offensive line. Dasher will be starting his third straight game after sitting out the first four games of the season. Less than impressive in his first two starts, the hope is that he will have shaken the rust off and return to the form he showed during the second half of last season.

With injured players having another week to heal, and younger players getting a chance to gain some experience because of the injury situation, the O-line could be returning to first-game form. Led by lone senior Mark Fisher, the up-front guys can be as good as any in the Sun Belt.

Middle Tennessee has designated the running back position as a committee, with senior Phillip Tanner, junior D. D. Kyles and sophomore Benny Cunningham rotating at that slot. Between them, they have rushed for 816 yards and ten touchdowns. Kyles has the best average (6.8 yards/carry), Tanner has the most touchdowns (5) and Cunningham the most receptions (11).

Senior Garrett Andrews and juniors Malcolm Beyah and Sancho McDonald are the top receivers, although sophomore Tavarres Jefferson jumped into the mix last week with five catches for 48 yards against Georgia Tech.

Saturday's game will be broadcast live on BRN affiliates WGNS 1450 AM, WMOT-FM 89.5 in Murfreesboro, and WNSR 560AM in Nashville. It may also be heard online at GoBlueRaiders.com.

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