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November 22, 2008
"(Tanner's) runs today were very inspiring. They were tough runs that showed heart. He runs with great determination and passion and it was very good to see him get in the end zone several times."
Tanner scored five rushing touchdowns and returned a kickoff 92 yards for another touchdown as the Blue Raiders turned the game against the Mean Green into a rout during a decisive second quarter.
North Texas had two costly first quarter turnovers that helped Middle Tennessee grab a 17-0 lead but North Texas battled back two touchdowns of its own before the Blue Raiders pulled away before halftime.
When it looked like North Texas might be left for dead after falling behind 17-0, the Mean Green responded with a pair of quick touchdown drives to cut the lead to four. Middle Tennessee didn't falter though. The Blue Raiders followed the second North Texas touchdown drive with a brilliant 67 yard march that ended with Tanner's second touchdown run of the game, a 1-yard dive into the end zone. Joe Craddock completed 5 of 6 passes on the drive before Tanner finished it off with three straight runs that covered the final 12 yards. The touchdown pushed the lead out to 11 points and North Texas never scored again.
RB Phillip Tanner: Tanner's effort at Western Kentucky last week was thought to be his breakout performance but it turned out to simply be a warmup for what was to come this week. Tanner scored his six touchdowns in a variety of ways. He ran through defenders, over defenders, and around defenders to earn each of his trips to paydirt. His 159 rushing yards were the most by a Blue Raider since Dwight Dasher rolled up 180 yards on the ground at Memphis last year. Tanner broke through several tackles on the day, epitomized most by his 92 yard kickoff return when broke through a tackle seemingly about every 20 yards.
WR Eldred King: King helped get the Raiders started by catching a 45 yard touchdown pass to open the scoring. He nearly caught a long touchdown on the first play of the game but Craddock's throw was just a bit out of his reach. King finished the day with four catches for 68 yards. His 45 yard touchdown was the longest pass play of the game for Middle Tennessee.
QB Joe Craddock: On Senior Day at Floyd Stadium, Craddock had another solid and efficient performance. With the running game dominating, Craddock still managed to throw for 251 yards and a touchdown while completing nearly two-thirds of his passes. He did throw one interception after the ball was deflected up into the air but the Blue Raiders ended up getting possession back when North Texas fumbled the interception return. Craddock's effort moved him past former Raider greats Phil Ironside and Billy Walker into seventh place on the program's all time passing yardage list.
DE Wes Hofacker: Another senior playing his final game at Floyd Stadium, Hofacker picked up a sack and two total tackles to finish his home career with a bang. Hofacker, a Texas native, joined Tanner to form a nightmarish Lone Star State duo for the Mean Green. Hofacker's sack was the exclamation point on the Blue Raider win, as it came on fourth down to stop the final reasonable opportunity North Texas had to score in the second half.
DE Jamari Lattimore: Lattimore racked up two of Middle Tennessee's five sacks and was a constant threat off the edge on North Texas quarterback Giovanni Vizza. Lattimore finished the day with three total tackles but was a key part of the Blue Raider pass rush that kept Vizza on the run even when he wasn't sacked.
If it seemed like Middle Tennessee was scoring a touchdown about every other snap in the first half, it's because it wasn't far from reality. Four of the Blue Raiders' six first half touchdowns came on drives of three plays or less, including the final three before halftime that each took only two plays. The average time of Middle Tennessee's first half touchdown drives was just 1:10.
Missed Mean Green opportunities: North Texas was on the move on two early possessions that ended in fumbles. The Mean Green had 56 yards of offense in just three plays on those two possessions, but lost both on fumbles.
Third down dominance: MT allowed North Texas to convert three of its first four third downs, but the Mean Green converted only three of its last 14 third down plays. MT's offense converted 5 of 10 third down plays.
Tanner per touch: Tanner averaged more than 11 yards per rush, but factoring in his kickoff return for a touchdown yields an average per touch of 16.7 yards.
With Middle Tennessee leading 45-13 late in the second quarter, it might have been easy for the Blue Raider defense to slack off with a huge lead. That most definitely wasn't the case though as Trevor Jenkins made a huge stop on 4th-and-goal from inside the one yard line to prevent the Mean Green from tacking on a touchdown in the final minute of the first half. It was Jenkins' only stop of the game but it proved huge and appeared to kill any remaining will to fight on the Mean Green sideline. The play stopped cold the North Texas drive that had marched 46 yards in just five plays.
BOWL WITHIN SIGHT
With the win, Middle Tennessee is now just a road win at Louisiana-Lafayette away from finishing the regular season 6-6, which would make the Blue Raiders bowl eligible for the second time in three seasons under Stockstill. They went to the Motor City Bowl in 2006 after finishing the regular season 7-5. To get to another bowl this year, they'll have to beat the Ragin' Cajuns and then hope to land a spot in one of the three bowl games the Sun Belt has a secondary tie-in with. It's very reasonable to expect two extra bowl slots available to Sun Belt teams and the matchup between MT and ULL could serve as a play-in game to get to postseason.
NOTES AND TIDBITS
Middle Tennessee has led from start to finish in three straight games ... Middle Tennessee's 52 points scored against North Texas are the most ever under Rick Stockstill and the most by the Blue Raiders since they had 70 against Idaho in 2001 ... The 28 points scored in the second quarter is the most in a quarter under Stockstill ... Middle Tennessee went over the 50-point mark for the 10th time as a FBS member ... WR Eldred King recorded his third touchdown catch of the season when he hauled in a 45 yarder in the first quarter ... With a forced fumble against North Texas, Jeremy Kellem has now been responsible for 15 turnovers in 23 career games played ... DT Trevor Jenkins made his team-best 36th straight start ... WR Caleb Dugger made his first collegiate catch against North Texas.
Dec. 3: Middle Tennessee at Louisiana-Lafayette, 6 p.m.
* Notes and Tidbits courtesy of MT Media Relations.