Raiders, Red Hawks battle tonight for GoDaddy.com Bowl title
Game will be broadcast natonally on ESPNJanuary 6, 2011 · Athletic Communications
MOBILE, Ala. - Playing in their third bowl game in the last five years, Middle Tennessee’s Blue Raiders are no longer novices in this regard. The focus is that of a veteran team that has one purpose in mind, to beat Miami in the GoDaddy.com Bowl in Mobile on Thursday night. The focus is so strong that a good candidate for a theme song would be the huge Bachman Turner Overdrive hit of the mid-70s, “Takin’ Care of Business”.
Kickoff is set for 7:06 pm CST in Mobile’s Ladd-Peebles Stadium, the home of the annual Senior Bowl game held every January. The game will be broadcast over the Blue Raider Network, with Chip Walters announcing the play-by-play, and former Blue Raider and NFL quarterback Kelly Holcomb handling color analysis. Bob Saunders is the producer. The game will also be televised live on ESPN, and will be the only bowl game of the day. It will also be carried over the internet on ESPN.3.com. Web audio is available on GoBlueRaiders.com.
Coach Rick Stockstill set the tone for his team’s singular focus by declaring that winning the game is the No. 1 priority, and having fun is the No. 2 priority. “And No. 2 will never come ahead of No. 1.”
“Most of our team played in the R&L Carriers New Orleans Bowl last year, and they know what they have to do to prepare for a bowl game,” Stockstill noted. “I have a lot of confidence in this team, and these players have a lot of confidence in themselves.”
Co-captain Dwight Smith, a senior defensive end, commented on senior leadership. “Last year, the seniors did a great job of showing us how to act, and this year’s seniors are going to do the same thing.”
Offensive tackle Mark Fisher, also a co-captain, believes that having to win the last three games gave the team confidence. “I think it means more because we had to go out there and fight. We had our backs against the wall, we were 3-6, and the team didn’t give up. It means a lot to us, winning three straight games rather than having it dropped in our lap.”
Fifth-year senior and captain Phillip Tanner believes closing out the season with three wins defined how the team deals with adversity.
“It defines a man, how he will bounce back. Against Western Kentucky, it showed that it takes all three phases of the game to win. Rod Issac recovered a fumble on the goal line, and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown. Then the defense held and the offense took the ball and scored again to put us ahead. Then special teams came thru when Western got close enough to kick a game-winning field goal in the final minutes, but we blocked it.
“We just showed that when we get knocked down, we are going to get back up.”
The Blue Raiders and the Miami Redhawks are similar in that regard. Miami started the season with a 4-4 record, then caught fire and won their last five games, including a 26-21 victory over 25th-ranked Northern Illinois in the Mid-American Conference title game.
“They have to be excited to be in a bowl game, too,” noted Stockstill. “They were 1-11 last year, and it’s been a few years since they have been to a bowl game. Miami is an excellent football team, they have good players on both sides of the ball, and they are really sound in the kicking game. We are excited about the challenge and the opportunity to play them.”
Middle Tennessee will feature a fast-paced spread offense, led by senior QB Dwight Dasher. In last year’s New Orleans Bowl, the senior signal-caller ran for 201 yards and two scores, and passed for 162 yards and two more touchdowns. He was named the game’s MVP.
Tanner led the ground attack this season with 841 yards, a 5.6 yards per carry average, and 11 touchdowns. He also caught 16 passes for 160 yards. Sophomore Bennie Cunningham and junior D.D. Kyles will see action behind Tanner.
The Blue Raiders tout a young (one senior) but experienced offensive line that boasts 136 career starts between them. Injuries took their toll in the first half of the year, but the starting five were together in the last three games, all wins. They will also be starting as a unit against Miami. All-Sun Belt selection Mark Fisher is the lone senior.
Senior Garrett Andrews and junior Malcolm Beyah are the top receivers with 30 and 27 catches each. Tavarres Jefferson, Sancho McDonald, and Tyler Mason each have at least 17 receptions and two scores.
Defensively, Middle Tennessee boasts an all-senior defensive front, anchored by Sun Belt Conference Defensive Player of the Year Jamari Lattimore. Lattimore has 11.5 sacks this season to lead the Sun Belt, and has 20.5 career sacks.
End Emmanuel Perez and tackles Dwight Smith and Jarrett Crittenton complete the front four. The linebackers are led by junior Darin Davis, who has 73 stops, 8.0 tackles for loss, and 3.5 sacks. He also has intercepted three passes, and returned one for a score.
The secondary, with three senior All-Sun Belt performers, has been the team’s strength. Seniors Jeremy Kellem (captain), Rod Issac, and Kevin Brown, along with junior Arness Ikner, have seen the bulk of playing time, and have played well. They will have their hands full with Miami’s two talented wide receivers.
Special teams for the Blue Raiders also earned post-season accolades. Junior placekicker Alan Gendreau hit a 55-yard FG against Louisiana, and was named First Team All-Sun Belt. Walk-on freshman punter Josh Davis was the surprise of the 2010 season, averaging 43.0 yards on 52 punts, including 18 that were downed inside the 20-yard line. He had 15 punts of 50 yards or more, including a 78 yarder that was the second longest in school history, and was named to the All-SBC 2nd team.
Return specialist Eric Russell has also excelled, returning kickoffs for a 26.8 average, including one for 97 yards and a score against Western Kentucky in a game in which the Blue Raiders needed every point they could muster to win. Russell earned honorable mention in the All-SBC selections.
Sixteen seniors will be playing their last game for Middle Tennessee. In addition to those already mentioned, offensive linemen Chris Hawkins and Evon Lettsome, and wide receiver Wes Caldwell are seniors. On the defensive side of the ball, tackle Gary Tucker and linebacker Antwan Davis, both of whom have started several games, are also seniors.
Fans also need to be aware that if the Blue Raiders win, ESPN3.com will carry all of the postgame celebration and trophy presentation.
Follow the Blue Raiders on Twitter @MTAthletics for continued updates.
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