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September 26, 2008It's time once again for the weekly Dime Package, a series of 10 observations, statistical nuggets, and ruminations on Blue Raider football.
1) 100 SEEMS SO FAR AWAY- If it feels like it's been a long time since a Blue Raider has put up a 100-yard rushing game, it's because it has been. The highest rushing total for a Blue Raider this year belongs to Phillip Tanner, who totaled 61 yards in each of the first two games against Troy and Maryland. You have to go all the way back to last season's 21-7 road win at Memphis to find the last 100-yard rushing game. Dwight Dasher ran all over the Tigers that day for 180 yards. His ability on the ground is a big reason why head coach Rick Stockstill wants to involve Dasher more in the offense right now. The count currently stands at nine for consecutive games without a 100-yard rusher.
2) HAVING TROUBLE FROM LONG DISTANCE-Field goal kicking has been another aspect of the game that the Blue Raiders have struggled to get jumpstarted. Freshman Alan Gendreau has shown plenty of promise and had an outstanding fall camp, but that has yet to translate to consistent game performance. He is 2-for-5 in field goals this year, but 0-for-2 from kicks outside of 40 yards. Kicking from long distance is not a new problem for the program though. Dating back to the 2005 season, the Blue Raiders are just 4-for-17 in field goals beyond 40 yards.
3) DASHER BACK ON THE RADAR-Justifiably so, many Blue Raider fans thought they might have seen the last of Dwight Dasher in 2008 after Joe Craddock got off to such a tremendous start and played exceptionally well against Maryland and Kentucky. Dasher got back in the action against Arkansas State and may be there to stay. Stockstill has indicated he feels like the team needs Dasher to improve the performance of the rushing offense. That points to the fact that Stockstill is of the philosophy that his team has to be able to run the ball effectively to make his preferred spread attack more effective. Right now, opponents aren't having to do much to slow the Blue Raiders on the ground. If MT can reverse that trend, the floodgates could really come open for the passing game, which has been pretty good even without a solid ground attack.
4) IN THE RACE OR OUT?-Stockstill said this week it is premature to count out the Blue Raiders from the conference championship race despite their 0-2 start in the league. The coach certainly has a point, as anything is bound to happen with so many teams still having so many games left to play. The odds may not be strong, but if MT can take care of its own business in league play, beginning with Tuesday night's clash with Florida Atlantic, it's not completely unreasonable to think the Blue Raiders could find themselves in the picture by mid-November. Preseason favorite FAU has looked quite ordinary and FAU/Troy/Arkansas State all still have to play each other. While it may be a long shot, there is absolutely no reason to walk out of the movie theater early before all the scenes have played out, especially with more bowl opportunities now potentially available for Sun Belt bowl eligible teams.
5) PINNING 'EM DEEP-Middle Tennessee punter David DeFatta has really developed the craft of pinning opponents inside the 20-yard line. DeFatta did it a whopping 28 times last season and has done it four times this year, with one such punt coming in each of the season's first four games. In that same time frame, Blue Raider opponents have pinned MT inside the 20 just 17 times, so DeFatta is nearly doubling up the opposition in the all important field position battle.
6) DEFENSE NEEDS MORE NEGATIVE PLAYS-There was a lot of talk in preseason about the defense's challenge of replacing All-Sun Belt defensive ends Tavares Jones and Erik Walden. The two of them combined for 18 tackles-for-loss last season to give the defense a feared duo of playmakers coming off the edge. This year, TFLs haven't been coming nearly as regularly. Through four games, the defense has 20 TFLs, putting the Blue Raiders on pace to total 60 for the year. That would be a difference of 18 TFLs from last year, which coincidentally is the same number Jones and Walden tallied in 2007. Trevor Jenkins is one who needs to step up in this area. After making nine TFLs last year, Jenkins only has one stop behind the line of scrimmage so far this season.
7) ROAD WEARY OWLS?-Middle Tennessee may be catching FAU at a good time on Tuesday night. The Owls will be playing their fourth road game in their first five contests and their previous road games have all been grueling with stops at Texas, Michigan State, and Minnesota. Think back to 2002 when the Blue Raiders opened with three straight road games at Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky. They returned home for game four and looked worn down in a 24-14 upset loss to Southeast Missouri. FAU may be feeling some of the same fatigue after its road travels.
8) STRONG FINISH COULD PLACE MT AT THE TOP-There was a time when it looked like North Texas might not ever lose a Sun Belt Conference game. However, Middle Tennessee now has a chance to become the Sun Belt's all time winningest program in league play if they can close the conference schedule strong this year. Coming into this season, North Texas had 30 Sun Belt wins all time to pace the conference but the Blue Raiders had narrowed the gap to just two. With the Mean Green struggling at the start of this season, Middle Tennessee should be able to take over the top spot if it can win at least four of its last five league games in 2008.
9) MIDDLE OF SCHEDULE HAS BEEN PROFITABLE-Middle Tennessee is about to kick off its fifth game of the 2008 season, which if history holds to form is great news for the Blue Raiders. Since 2002, the fifth, sixth, and seventh games of each season have been generally very kind to MT. In those games, MT has posted a 12-6 record and outscored its opponents by nearly 10 points per game. The Blue Raiders hope that trend continues with FAU, Florida International, and Louisville filling those fifth, sixth, and seventh slots this season.
10) DOWNWARD TREND IN TIME OF POSSESSION-Middle Tennessee dominated time of possession in the first two games of the season, holding the ball for nearly 76 minutes out of a possible 120 (63.3% of game time) against Troy and Maryland. However, the trend has reversed big time against Kentucky and Arkansas State. In those two games, MT has had the ball for just 52 minutes (43.3% of game time). The trend is evident in the number of plays run as well. MT ran just 122 offensive plays against Kentucky and Arkansas State after running 166 offensive plays in the first two games against Troy and Maryland.