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September 10, 2009

MT vs. Memphis: Who and what to watch

Middle Tennessee can think about Saturday night's game against Memphis in two positive lights. It was two years ago when the Raiders won on the road against the Tigers, 21-7. And it was in last year's home Blackout game against Florida Atlantic that MT pulled out a miracle 14-13 win.

The Blackout will be in full effect again as the Tigers come to Murfreesboro for the home opener of the 2009 season at 6 p.m. on Saturday.

GoMiddle.com breaks down who and what to watch when the ball is kicked off and the Blue Raiders go in search of win number one this season.

THE BIG STATS

RUSHING YARDAGE- Middle Tennessee likes to put the ball in the air but the Blue Raiders need to be more balanced than they were at Clemson and get Phillip Tanner established as a viable threat on the ground. Memphis will become much easier to defend for the Raiders if MT prevents the Tigers from getting into an early rhythm on the ground. Memphis quarterback Arkelon Hall did not look capable of winning a game on his own through the air against Ole Miss.

EXPLOSIVE PLAYS- Memphis lacked big play firepower against Ole Miss in week one as the Tigers only hit on one play of more than 20 yards. The Blue Raiders were a little more potent in the big play department at Clemson, but would like to be even more explosive against Memphis. That could be tough to accomplish with talented sophomore wide receiver Malcolm Beyah listed as doubtful for the game with a high ankle sprain. If either team is able to hit on some big gainers or long touchdowns, their chances of victory will increase dramatically because it could be tough for either offense to grind out long time consuming drives.


YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING WELL IF...

MEMPHIS IS IN EARLY THIRD AND LONGS- The Tigers were awful on third down against Ole Miss last week and they have to get their offense in more favorable down and distance situations to help take some heat off of Arkelon Hall. If the Blue Raider defense is able to play aggressively on long third downs the chances of Memphis making crucial mistakes will rise significantly.

DWIGHT DASHER BOUNCES BACK- Dasher's stat line didn't look very good at Clemson, but head coach Rick Stockstill said he was pleased with most of what his junior quarterback did. Some of Dasher's mistakes were clearly not all his fault and he encountered some misfortune that can be chalked up to just bad luck. If Dasher hits on his first few passes and generates early success for the offense, the Memphis defense could become more vulnerable as the game continues into the latter stages.

YOU'LL KNOW IT'S GOING POORLY IF...

CURTIS STEELE KEEPS THE CHAINS MOVING- Steele has the potential to be the biggest thorn in MT's side if the Raiders can't get him on the ground. Memphis will try to establish Steele right away and if the Raider defense struggles to tackle him or looks vulnerable against the Tiger offensive line, then Steele will pound away for much of the night. If that happens, Arkelon Hall may not have to do much outside his comfort zone.

MT LOSES ON SPECIAL TEAMS- The Raiders ran into big problems in the kicking game at Clemson, but Memphis does not boast the return firepower that Clemson had in C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. However, MT must be more sound in its kick and punt coverage assignments or the defense will find itself fighting a losing field position battle.

RB Curtis Steele, 6-0/190, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 90 rushing yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Steele is a workhorse for the Memphis offense. His performance goes a long way toward deciding the overall effectiveness of the Tiger attack.
BEST CASE: MT prevents Steele from sustaining drives on the ground and forces quarterback Arkelon Hall to make plays through the air on 3rd-and-long.
WORST CASE: Steele is effective on first down to keep down and distance manageable for Memphis and he proves too tough to keep out of the endzone in the red zone.
QB Arkelon Hall, 6-2/225, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 15-30 for 110 yards and two interceptions against Ole Miss
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Hall is an X-factor for the offense. He had a disappointing season opener against Ole Miss but is dangerous because he has outside playmakers to throw to.
BEST CASE: Hall struggles for the second consecutive week and is erratic against a swarming Blue Raider defense.
WORST CASE: Hall is allowed to play a low stress game because of an effective running attack and is ultimately able to attack a Blue Raider defense that has to adjust to counter the running game.
CB Deante Lamar 5-10/185, Senior
THE NUMBERS: Six tackles and an interception against Ole Miss
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Lamar is a big play threat in the secondary and proved it against Ole Miss with a 25 yard interception return.
BEST CASE: Lamar and the rest of the Memphis secondary struggle to cover the spread attack and leave soft spots available to the Raider passing game.
WORST CASE: Lamar plays a role in early turnovers by the MT offense, something the Raiders struggled with at Clemson.
WR Duke Calhoun, 6-4/205, Senior
THE NUMBERS: Five catches for 53 yards against Ole Miss
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Calhoun is sometimes overshadowed by fellow wideout Carlos Singleton, but he arguably has the better physical tools.
BEST CASE: Calhoun has a catch in 37 straight games, but MT prevents him from taking the game over by becoming a favorite third down target for Hall.
WORST CASE: Calhoun reels in several passes and the Raiders have to devote more manpower to covering him, leaving them vulnerable against Singleton.
LB Greg Jackson, 6-2/215, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 2.5 TFLs and a sack against Ole Miss
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Jackson is the heart and soul of the Memphis defense and is a playmaker behind the line of scrimmage.
BEST CASE: Jackson is unable to cause any havoc in the Blue Raider backfield and the Memphis defense struggles to force MT into any critical mistakes.
WORST CASE: Jackson controls the action around the line of scrimmage and makes big plays at multiple levels in the Memphis defense.


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