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October 20, 2009

Six pack: Breaking down the ground game

Middle Tennessee is set to open the second half of the season and the Blue Raiders will face nothing but conference foes the rest of the way, starting with rival Western Kentucky this Saturday at Floyd Stadium.

Head coach Rick Stockstill said last week that he is working hard to improve MT's struggling running game.

GoMiddle.com breaks down that and five other game related items in this week's Six Pack.

GROUND GAME IS GROUNDED: Rick Stockstill doesn't want to have to rely so much on quarterback Dwight Dasher so much to run the ball, but Stockstill admitted after the Mississippi State game that his offense is struggling to generate ground game production any other way. The Blue Raiders rank 99th nationally in rushing offense, ahead of only Florida International inside the conference. Dasher has accounted for more than half of MT's ground production this season and his share of the load has only gotten more important since Phillip Tanner was lost for the year against Memphis. Since that injury, MT has averaged just 57 non-Dasher produced rushing yards in the last four games. With Dasher's number included, the Raiders are averaging 107.3 rushing yards in the last three games.

CLOSE EYE ON ATTENDANCE: Middle Tennessee set a single season home attendance record last year and the Blue Raiders have a chance to top it again this year. In five home games during the 2008 season, MT drew a total of 101,135 fans for an average of 20,227 per game. In the first two home games of 2009, MT has already drawn a total of 51,987 fans. To set a new total record, MT just needs an average of 12,287 fans to show up for the final four home games. To set a new record for average attendance in a season, the Raiders need to draw an average of 17,344 fans per game for the last four games. The odds of breaking the average attendance record would have been even better if the weather had been better for the Mississippi State game. Early forecasts for this Saturday call for a high of just 51 degrees but with mostly sunny skies.

DEFENSE HAS HABIT OF FAST STARTS: Middle Tennessee's defense has been excellent this year at starting games. Opponents have been able to muster very little against the Blue Raider defense on their opening possession. In six games, opponents have combined to gain just three first downs on their first offensive possession and have averaged just 11.8 yards on their first offensive possession. The Raiders have so far not yielded any points to an opponent on its first possession.

ANOTHER LATE SEASON CHARGE?: MT stood at 2-6 last year before reeling off a three game winning streak to get within a game of bowl eligibility going into the season finale. The schedule sets up favorably for another strong close to the 2009 season. Based solely on won-loss records, MT has the fourth easiest remaining schedule in FBS (Division 1-A). MT's six remaining opponents have a combined record of 8-22. The only teams in college football that face remaining opponents with a worse overall record are Arkansas State, Northern Illinois, and Western Michigan.

FORMULA FOR VICTORY: MT defeated Western Kentucky last year 21-10 in frigid conditions in Bowling Green. What was the formula for that win? The Raiders won the hard fought game with tremendous defense and special teams. MT limited the Hilltoppers to just 68 rushing yards, held WKU to just 3 of 12 on third down conversions, and had nearly a 10 yard advantage in net punting. The MT defense swarmed in the WKU backfield most of the game, accumulating five sacks.

GOING ON TWO YEARS PLUS FOR WKU: WKU upset MT back on September 20, 2007 when the Blue Raiders struggled with the true freshman version of Dwight Dasher starting at quarterback in place of the injured Joe Craddock. The Blue Raiders avenged that loss last season and the Hilltoppers have been looking for another win over an FBS opponent ever since. WKU is 0-19 against FBS opponents since that 20-17 win over MT more than two years ago. In those 19 losses, the average final score has been 33-15. The Hilltoppers have lost nine straight games to Sun Belt teams by an average score of 28-18.


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