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Old rivals square off Saturday in Bowling Green

Kickoff set for 3:19 PM

November 19, 2010 · Athletic Communications

MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - In every conference, there are teams that you love to beat more than any other, especially when there is something on the line. In the Sun Belt Conference, Western Kentucky is the foe of choice for Middle Tennessee, and the Hilltoppers feel the same way about the Blue Raiders. The two will butt helmets for the 61st time on Saturday afternoon in Bowling Green with kickoff scheduled for 3:19 pm.

The game will be televised live on CSS as the Sun Belt Conference Game of the Week. Joe Block (pxp) and Cole Cubelic (analyst) will be on the air, while Sandra Golden roams the sideline. Chip Walters and Kelly Holcomb will be calling the game on the Blue Raider network, with pre-game, halftime and post-games shows live from Fanatics, the site of the official viewing and listening party.

Only about 90 miles apart, Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky have been playing each other in football for nearly a hundred years. The Blue Raiders prevailed in that very first game in 1914, 47-0. Middle Tennessee holds a slim 31-28-1 lead in the series, and managed to pad that lead with a 21-10 win in Bowling Green two years ago, followed by a resounding 62-24 Homecoming victory last year.

So far, November 2010 has not been a good month for the Blue Raiders, as losses at Arkansas State and at home to North Texas has dropped them to 3-6 overall, and 2-3 in Sun Belt play. The Hilltoppers have similar records at 2-8/2-4, but Western has been playing much better lately. After ending the nation's longest losing streak with a 54-21 rout of Louisiana in late October, WKU won again last week, dropping Arkansas State in overtime for their second conference win.

"WKU is a vastly improved team from a year ago," said Coach Rick Stockstill. "Their running back, Bobby Rainey, is leading the nation in carries, and is among the Sun Belt Conference leaders in nearly every rushing category."

Rainey, a compact 5-8, 198-lb junior, has both speed and power, and gets better as the game progresses and the opposing defense gets tired.

"We have been giving up five or six yards on first down, and we can't do that. We need to stop them on first down, to lengthen the second and third down opportunities for them," noted Stockstill.

Time of possession is also a concern for the Blue Raiders. The Hilltoppers are ranked second in the Sun Belt and 9th in the nation in time of possession with 32:37, and will try to duplicate what North Texas did last week, and that is wear down the Middle Tennessee defensive front seven as the game goes on.

Middle Tennessee will counter the running game with senior Phillip Tanner, whose 578 yards on only103 attempts has earned him 5.6 yards per carry this season. He led all rushers last week against North Texas with 87 yards on seven attempts, and scored two TD's, one on a 51 yard run. Junior D. D. Kyles has a 5.7 average, sophomore Benny Cunningham is averaging 4.2 yds/carry. Quarterback Dwight Dasher has 3.4 average on 89 rushing attempts.

Dasher, the pre-season SBC Player of the Year, has struggled to regain his passing touch after serving a four-game NCAA suspension to start the season. In the five games he has played, Dasher has completed 56% of his passes, for 907 yards. He has three touchdown passes, but has thrown 12 interceptions. He has also fumbled five times and lost three of them.

Defensively, Middle Tennessee has regained some of the swagger that it had last year. They started slowly, but in the last six games, the Blue Raiders have recorded 19 sacks. They rank 26th nationally with 23, and are also nationally ranked (27th) in tackles for loss with 61. Senior DE Jamari Lattimore has 9.5 sacks this season, which puts him in a tie for 3rd place nationally, and the most in the Sun Belt Conference.

The kicking game should solidly favor the Blue Raiders, with All-Sun Belt placekicker Alan Gendreau on hand, and the punting duo of Nathaniel Toulson and Josh Davis averaging 42.1 yards per punt. Eric Russell has returned kickoffs and punts for an average of 84.8 ypg.

Blue Raider Network affiliates for the game will be Nashville flagship WNSR 560 AM, as well as Murfreesboro Flagships WGNS 1450 AM and WMOT-FM 89.5. The game will also be available on ESPN3.com.

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