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September 17, 2009

MT at Maryland: Who and what to watch

Middle Tennessee's 24-14 win over Maryland last year is one of the high water marks of the Blue Raiders' first decade at the highest level of college football.

Saturday's game at Maryland presents another major opportunity for MT as the Raiders look to build off momentum gained from a win over Memphis and improve to 2-1 on the season.

GoMiddle.com breaks down who and what to watch when the ball is kicked off at Byrd Stadium in College Park.

THE BIG STATS

MARYLAND'S RUN/PASS BALANCE- The Terps would probably like to be able to ride the legs of Da'Rel Scott and establish the game on the ground. Over the Terps' last 15 games (dating back to last year's season opener), Maryland has generally been much more successful when it can shift the weight of its offense mostly on the running game. In the Terps nine wins since last year, they have averaged 39 running plays and 28 passing plays. In their six losses, they have averaged just 27 running plays and 35 passing plays.

DWIGHT DASHER'S COMPLETION PERCENTAGE- Former MT quarterback Joe Craddock played one of the best games of any Blue Raider signal caller in recent memory last year against Maryland. It will likely take a similar effort from Dasher to win on the road. With running back Phillip Tanner out with an injury, the running game is a big question mark and Dasher will need to be on target like he was last week against Memphis. Dasher completed just 48 percent of his passes against Clemson. He hit on 69 percent against Memphis. Craddock completed 70 percent of his throws against the Terrapins last year.


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

THE MT FRONT SEVEN SLOWS DA'REL SCOTT- Scott did damage early last year against the Raiders with a long touchdown run in the first quarter, but was not a big factor as the game wore on. If the front seven can contain Scott on its own and the secondary is free to be more aggressive against the pass, then the defense will have its recipe for a second straight successful game against the Terps.

D.D. KYLES IS EFFECTIVE EARLY- Kyles will slide in for Tanner this week and will be a key part of the Blue Raider offense. Not only does he need to be able to provide some yardage on the ground, but he also has to be effective in the passing game, particularly in his protection assignments in MT's blocking schemes. Those are the aspects of the offense that have hindered his playing time in the past.

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

SPECIAL TEAMS WOES RETURN- The duo of Torrey Smith and Kenny Tate isn't quite as potent as Clemson's duo of C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford, but Smith and Tate are both capable of busting big plays in the return game. Smith will handle kick returns and Tate is the lead punt returner. If either makes a big play, MT will be behind the eight ball. Through two games, the Raiders are yielding nearly 33 yards per kick return and nearly 17 yards per punt return.

THE TERRAPINS FIND A WAY TO PENETRATE- One of Maryland's big defensive problems in the first two games has been an inability to make plays behind the line of scrimmage. Maryland only has two sacks and six tackles for loss in two games this season. Compare those numbers to MT's defense, which only has three sacks but has already accumulated 15 TFLs. If Maryland is able to get into the backfield and make plays behind the line of scrimmage, it will be a sign that the defense has turned a corner after not forcing any turnovers and yielding almost 1,000 yards of offense in its first two games.

RB Da'rel Scott, 5-11/200, Junior
THE NUMBERS: 30 carries for 158 yards and two touchdowns this season
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Scott is the most consistent presence in the Maryland offense. He grinds out yardage to sustain drives but is capable of a big play.
BEST CASE: MT doesn't let Scott break free for any long touchdowns, like he did last year in the first quarter at Floyd Stadium. The Raiders need to keep Scott from beating them by himself.
WORST CASE: Scott not only breaks for a couple of big plays, but is effective enough to allow the passing game to stay vanilla.
WR/KR Torrey Smith, 6-1/200, Sophomore
THE NUMBERS: Nine catches for 109 yards. Averaging 26 yards per kick return with a TD.
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Smith is a big play threat on offense and in the kicking game. MT's kick coverage units have struggled some in each of the first two games and Smith will test them again.
BEST CASE: Smith is contained on all kick returns and doesn't make any back breaking catches of 30 or more yards.
WORST CASE: Smith exposes MT's kick coverage units and for the third straight week the Raiders give up big chunks of yardage in the kicking game.
QB Chris Turner, 6-4/220, Senior
THE NUMBERS: 42-68 for 403 yards with one TD and one INT
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Turner's struggles cost Maryland dearly in last year's loss to MT. His game managing skills are imperative for a Terrapin win.
BEST CASE: The Raiders are able to rattle Turner into more crucial mistakes like they were a year ago.
WORST CASE: Turner can lean on an effective Da'Rel Scott to avoid having to make big plays with his arm on 3rd-and-long situations.
S/PR Kenny Tate, 6-4/225, Sophomore
THE NUMBERS: Eight tackles and a TFL, averaging 6.8 yards per punt return
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Tate roams the field at strong safety, is the Terps top punt returner and one of the best overall athletes in the game.
BEST CASE: Tate doesn't get a chance to make a big play on a punt return and is forced to come up from his strong safety spot to provide support against the run.
WORST CASE: Tate is set free to use his athleticism in several ways on defense and causes a Blue Raider turnover, or makes a big play on special teams.
LB Adrian Moten, 6-2/230, Junior
THE NUMBERS: 15 tackles, 1.5 TFLs and 0.5 sacks this season
WHY HE'S IMPORTANT: Moten is arguably the Terps top playmaker behind the line of scrimmage and provides a physical presence at strongside linebacker.
BEST CASE: Moten and the rest of the Maryland front seven continue to struggle causing trouble in the backfield like they have in the first two games.
WORST CASE: This game becomes a breakout party for Moten and a frustrated Terps defense that has been kicked around early this season.


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