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November 7, 2009Middle Tennessee's special teams performance was the difference in victory and defeat last week against Florida Atlantic.
The Blue Raiders probably would have prevailed over Florida International on Saturday without a standout day in the kicking game, but special teams again played a huge role in MT's 48-21 throttling of the Golden Panthers.
After blocking three kicks against FAU, the Blue Raiders blocked two more against FIU.
Safety Jeremy Kellem blocked FIU's second punt of the game, resulting in just a 26 yard kick that set the offense up with good field position on a drive that ended in a touchdown.
Defensive tackle Dwight Smith was the man responsible for blocking an FIU field goal attempt early in the second quarter that preserved a 17-0 lead for the Raiders and kept all the momentum on the MT sideline.
While the result was the same this week with the blocks, the path to getting them was completely different from a scheme standpoint than it was against FAU.
"It was schematically different on the punt because (FIU) didn't run the same formation on the punt that FAU ran," head coach Rick Stockstill said. "FAU ran the shield formation where they had the three guys back there (in front of the punter). Last week we got the pressure up the middle. This week we got edge pressure."
The scenario was exactly the opposite on the blocked field goal, compared to the blocked field goal that Marcus Udell had last week.
"On the blocked field goal, we got it there in the middle," Stockstill said. "It was a middle block. We thought we had a chance to do something inside, whereas last week we thought we could (block a field goal) off the edge.
"It's a tremendous compliment to our coaches and our players for executing our block schemes."
For the season now, MT has seven total blocked kicks.
DEFENSIVE FRONT BRINGS THE HEAT
FIU starting quarterback Paul McCall was a late scratch from the lineup with an elbow injury.
In hindsight, he may be happy he didn't play.
MT racked up six sacks against Golden Panther backup signal caller Wayne Younger.
On paper, it looked like a mismatch as MT leads the league in sacks and FIU is last in the Sun Belt in pass protection. The game ended up playing out that way.
"They were lining up a bunch of new guys (on the offensive line) and they sub in and out a lot with their linemen because some of them get confused sometimes," said MT linebacker Cam Robinson, who had one of the six sacks in the game. "I think coming into this week, we felt like we could get to the quarterback. Watching their film, the quarterback has taken a lot of hits."
Defensive end Chris McCoy added two sacks to his season total, which now stands at four.
"I had told some of my teammates that I felt like I could do something great this game and maybe break the sack record, but I couldn't quite do that," McCoy said. "I'm just glad we got the win. We are 6-3 and we have Lafayette next week and we'll try to get it up to seven wins and keep it going from there."
MT's pass rush was particularly effective on third downs, as the Raiders held FIU to just 6 of 17 on third down conversions.
RAIDERS AIM HIGHER
MT reached bowl eligibility with its sixth win of the season, but that seems to be nothing more than a footnote right now in the Blue Raider locker room, where the team is focused on finishing off the season with a hot streak.
But Stockstill admitted after the game that it is an accomplishment for his program to reach this point for the second time in his tenure, especially to do it with still 25 percent of the season remaining.
"We played four of our first five on the road and we are still in this position," Stockstill said. "We got beat by three pretty good teams and we've beaten pretty good teams. (Being bowl eligible) doesn't take any pressure off of us ... (Bowl eligibility) is an objective and a goal. We want to go to a bowl game but we're not stopping here. We've got three games left ... but to be bowl eligible after the first week of November is a tremendous compliment to this football team."
McCoy echoed his head coach's sentiments.
"In the end scheme of things, we are thinking about getting to nine wins," McCoy said.
McDONALD GETS BACK IN THE ENDZONE
Sophomore receiver Sancho McDonald enjoyed an outstanding freshman season when he caught three touchdown passes and accumulated 308 receiving yards.
His second year has been a little less productive so far. He entered Saturday's game with FIU with just one touchdown catch and 148 receiving yards, but he got back in the mix with a 27 yard touchdown catch from Dwight Dasher in the first quarter.
"I've been on the schneid for a little while, but I just have to keep working hard and keep my head up. It's a team thing and as long as we are winning it doesn't really matter, but that play was a good catch and it was a good throw by the quarterback. If it's one-on-one Dwight knows and I know that I can go up and get it. That's the chemistry we have now so I just made a play for my quarterback and wasn't going to let him down."