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November 3, 2009

Six pack: Can the Raiders finish with a bang?

Three straight home games await the Blue Raiders as MT makes a run at surpassing the school's 1-A era record for wins and strives for its second major bowl berth under Rick Stockstill.

GoMiddle.com breaks down six game related items for Saturday's game against FIU in this week's Six Pack feature.

ONE MORE NOTE FROM FAU: MT's 27-20 over Florida Atlantic Saturday was unusual in the fact that FAU picked up 28 first downs compared to only 11 for the Raiders. That is by far the largest negative differential in first downs in a game that MT ended up winning under Rick Stockstill. MT has won just one other time in the Stockstill era when it gained 10 or more fewer first downs than the opponent. Surprisingly, the other occurrence came in a game MT won handily, a 35-14 decision over FAU in 2006. The Owls had 23 first downs in that game compared to just 13 for the Raiders, but MT scored touchdowns on a kickoff return and a fumble recovery to help offset that imbalance. There have been three additional wins in the Stockstill era that came in games where the opponent had at least five more first downs (2006 vs. Arkansas State, 2008 vs. FAU, 2007 vs. ULM).

MT'S TIME TO CLOSE: For the fourth straight year under Stockstill, MT enters the final month of the regular season with a chance to achieve something special. While the Raiders have experienced success in the final weeks of each season over the last three years, they have yet to string together the type of winning streak that would really put an exclamation point on the season. MT was 7-3 in 2006 before dropping three in a row to close the season, including a heartbreaking 21-20 setback to Troy that cost the Raiders an outright Sun Belt championship. MT won four games in a row in 2007 to improve to 5-5 and bring a league title within reach, only to drop the final two games of the year to Louisiana-Lafayette and Troy. Last season, the Blue Raiders could have closed with a four game winning streak but lost the season finale at Louisiana-Lafayette when they could have improved to 6-6 and bowl eligibility. This year, the closing schedule includes three home games and all four remaining contests are very winnable. A four game winning streak would give the Raiders a 9-3 record and would vault MT into a bowl game with a wave of momentum, the kind of momentum that could take the program to the ever elusive next level.

SLOWING DOWN T.Y.: FIU star receiver T.Y. Hilton has had a tale of two seasons. The sophomore all purpose standout began the year in dominating fashion but has been slowed for the last few weeks by an injury he originally sustained against Western Kentucky. Hilton averaged 182 all purpose yards per game in the season's first four games, but that number has declined to just 43 all purpose yards per game in the last four games as he missed a lot of action due to the injury but still played in each game. Hilton is expected to be nearly fully healthy for this week's game, just in time to face a Blue Raider team that he gave fits to last season. Hilton had 248 all purpose yards in FIU's 31-21 win over MT last year, including a 63 yard touchdown reception, a 40 yard kickoff return, and a 24 yard punt return.

BEWARE THE BLOCKS: MT made headlines last week when it blocked three total kicks in its road win at FAU. FIU also had great special teams play in its home win over Louisiana-Lafayette. The Golden Panthers blocked a Ragin' Cajun field goal attempt in overtime to preserve the 20-17 win. The blocked kick was the third total blocked kick on the season for FIU. MT now has five total blocked kicks and has blocked 11 total kicks during the Stockstill era, although none have come against FIU in three previous meetings.

TWO OVER 100: For the first time since 2002, Middle Tennessee had two players reach the 100-yard rushing mark in the same game when D.D. Kyles and Dwight Dasher did it against FAU. Kyles, who has 203 yards on the ground the past two games, rushed for a personal-best 140 yards on 13 carries and a touchdown. Dasher recorded his second career 100-yard game with 108 yards against the Owls. If Kyles' ground game surge stays consistent, MT's double threat of Kyles and Dasher on the ground will become very difficult to defend. In the 2002 game when two MT players last topped 100 yards, it was Dwone Hicks and ReShard Lee against New Mexico State. In that game, Lee took several snaps at quarterback.

HOLD DOWN THE RUN GAME: FIU brings a 2-3 conference record to Murfreesboro this weekend and it doesn't take much analysis to find a common thread in the Golden Panthers' two league wins. In wins over Western Kentucky and Louisiana-Lafayette, FIU ran for 206 and 145 yards, respectively. In FIU's three league losses to ULM, Troy, and Arkansas State, the Golden Panthers haven't topped even 80 yards on the ground. It's probably not a coincidence that FIU's three conference losses have come against the three best run defenses in the Sun Belt. Louisiana-Lafayette ranks fifth in the league against the run and WKU ranks last. MT sits at fourth. If the Blue Raider run defense plays to the level of the top run defenses in the league against, FIU, a win is likely. FIU's top rusher is Darriet Perry, but no Golden Panther player with at least 10 carries this year is averaging four yards per attempt.


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