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Days of Old
By Ethan Lannom

Last week’s game against Western Kentucky looked like a microcosm of the Middle Tennessee football season. A non-existent offense and a somewhat suspect defense had put the Blue Raiders in an unfavorable position.

Midway through the third quarter, the Hilltoppers had the ball on the MT 1-yard line with a 4th and goal upcoming. Instead of kicking a field goal to go up by 16 points, Western decided to go for the kill. The quarterback fumbled the snap, and Middle Tennessee took the ball back 99 yards for a touchdown. The Blue Raiders managed to come back and take the victory 27-26.

That one play sparked Middle Tennessee in that game and the momentum continued in the game against FAU. Both teams were 4-6 going into the contest. One team would be eliminated from bowl contention, and the other would stay alive.

The Blue Raiders had to know it would be a good day when they won the opening coin toss. It was the first one they had won in eleven games.

Florida Atlantic started the game aggressively, going for it twice on 4th down, the second of which the Owls scored on a touchdown on. On the flip side, Middle Tennessee had a 4th and 1 on its first possession and decided to punt.

The Blue Raiders were able to tie the game with a screen pass to Tavarres Jefferson for a touchdown. Then, it looked like the turnover ghosts were back to haunt Middle Tennessee. Dwight Dasher threw an interception, and FAU had a 1st and goal. Luckily for the Blue Raiders, the Owls missed a field goal, and the game remained tied.

Dasher hooked up with Tyler Mason on just his 4th passing TD of the year to put Middle Tennessee up 14-7 going into halftime.

Then, the underperforming MT defense stepped up. Specifically, it was Darin Davis with two interceptions in the 2nd half. Both of his picks set up short touchdown runs from Dasher. Senior runningback Phillip Tanner added another score with a 44-yard scamper to secure the victory 38-14 on Senior Day at MTSU.

It looked like a typical game from last year’s New Orleans Bowl champion. The offense was dominant, and the defense was forcing turnovers. You could even feel a sense of confidence.

But let’s not kid ourselves. This team is still nowhere close to where it should be based on last year’s performance. However, the Blue Raiders have managed to put themselves in position to be bowl eligible.

And how has it happened? Turnovers, or rather, lack thereof. In the last eight quarters, Middle Tennessee has just turned the ball over once. On the other hand, the MT defense has been forcing more turnovers than the rest of the year. That beautiful combination equals wins.

Next week’s game at FIU will be a tough one. The Golden Panthers are assured at least a share of the Sun Belt Championship and are not without motivation for Saturday’s game. With a win, Florida International would win the Sun Belt title outright. So to become bowl eligible, the Blue Raiders will need an outstanding showing in Miami. Just maybe they can pull it off. Let’s see what happens.

Here’s Hoping
By Ethan Lannom

Coming into Saturday’s game against North Texas, the Blue Raiders knew it was a game that would determine the rest of the season. With a win, Middle Tennessee would still be able to get 7 wins and possible receive a bowl bid. A loss would start the preparation for next year’s team.

The two teams traded punts to begin the game. North Texas scored first with the help of a 65-yard run by Lance Dunbar. The Mean Green put it in the endzone with a 30-yard strike from Riley Dodge to Jamaal Jackson.

Bennie Cunningham returned the ensuing kickoff for a touchdown, but it was brought back on a holding call against Middle Tennessee. The MT offense stalled again and had to punt.

North Texas then went the length of the field on a 91-yard drive, finishing it off with a 22-yard rush by Dunbar. It was the Mean Green’s second 90+ yard scoring drive of the game. Dunbar had gained more than 100 yards in the first quarter.

The Blue Raiders finally scored on their next drive. Middle Tennessee was stopped inside the 10-yard line and had to settle for a 24-yard field goal. After a North Texas punt, running back Phillip Tanner closed the deficit to 4 points with a 51-yard scamper with 1:49 remaining in the first half. The final two minutes before halftime would prove to be the critical juncture in the game.

Arness Ikner picked off a North Texas pass attempt to put the Blue Raiders in good field position. Middle Tennessee could conceivably get at least a field goal on the drive. Dwight Dasher then threw an interception on the very next play to give the Mean Green the ball at the MT 42. With 2 seconds left, North Texas called a timeout and kicked a 53-yard field goal to make it 17-10 going into halftime. That six-point swing would turn out to be huge.

The Mean Green started the third quarter with a drive of more than 9 minutes and kicked another field goal to go up by 10 points. Tanner kept the Blue Raiders in it with a 21-yard TD run on Middle Tennessee’s next drive. North Texas added another field goal with just more than a minute to go in the game, putting the score at 23-17.

On the Blue Raiders’ final scoring chance, Dasher threw his second interception to John Shorter to completely “dash” all hopes and give the Mean Green the six-point victory.

Two weeks ago, Middle Tennessee was hoping for an 8-4 season. Then, it was 7-5. After Saturday’s loss, it’s 6-6. The Blue Raiders now have to stop hoping to win and look to actually win against improved conference rival Western Kentucky.

Blue vs. Red
By Ethan Lannom

Tuesday’s mid-term elections pitted Democrats versus Republicans, or more commonly seen on a national map as blue states versus red states. Meanwhile, another match-up of the same colors was taking place in Jonesboro, Arkansas. The Blue Raiders of Middle Tennessee faced off against the Red Wolves of Arkansas State.

With Troy losing a shocking game to Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday, Middle Tennessee came into Tuesday night’s affair with great expectations about its chances in the Sun Belt Conference. Although the Blue Raiders were just 3-4 overall going into the game, they were 2-1 in conference and could tie Troy and Florida International with a victory at Arkansas State.

Unfortunately for MTSU, the game was played on ESPN2. Normally, this is an excellent sign for smaller college programs. It gives your school great exposure and a chance to shine in the national spotlight. However, Middle Tennessee has not performed well in these situations. Besides a thrilling last-second win against Florida Atlantic two years ago on ESPN, the Blue Raiders have not shown their best stuff when the whole country is watching. This troubling trend continued Tuesday night.

Just two minutes into the game, quarterback Dwight Dasher threw his first interception of the night to Demario Davis. Coming into the contest, Middle Tennessee’s opponents had scored 82 points off turnovers during the season. The Red Wolves added to that total, taking the ball 21 yards for the touchdown. The drive was finished by a four-yard scamper by quarterback Ryan Aplin. The Blue Raiders blocked the extra point, and the score was 6-0.

After a Middle Tennessee punt, Arkansas State again marched down the field. The Red Wolves went 71 yards on just 5 plays, including a 27-yard pass to Taylor Stockemer to set up the touchdown. The MT defense did not look good early, allowing two scores in the first seven minutes.

The Blue Raiders were faced with a fourth-and-short around midfield on their next possession. Middle Tennessee brought out its punt unit, but it smelled a little fishy. Fortunately for the Blue Raiders, the Arkansas State defense didn’t sniff out the play in time as Bennie Cunningham took the snap from the upback position and just got the first down.

Dasher then found Garrett Andrews down the sideline for a 33-yard completion to put the MT offense in scoring position. Middle Tennessee could only manage a field goal, which made it 13-3.

When things are going badly, sometimes you need a lucky play on special teams. The Blue Raiders got one on the ensuing kickoff. Kicker Alan Gendreau hit a sky kick and nobody from Arkansas State called for a fair catch. The ball hit the turf, and David Jones of Middle Tennessee came out of the scrum with the ball. On another fourth-and-short situation, Dasher went seven yards for the first down to keep the drive alive. Head coach Rick Stockstill knew he needed to take risks early to keep the Red Wolves from running away with it. Cunningham found the endzone from four yards out to cut the deficit to just three points.

MTSU tried another short kickoff, but the kick returner called for a fair catch. A Middle Tennessee kick team member ran into the returner and gave the home team good field position. Arkansas State answered the previous Blue Raider drive on the first play of the second quarter. Aplin connected with Stockemer on a 37-yard TD pass to put the Red Wolves up by 10 points again.

Middle Tennessee fought back on its possession, with a grinding 14-play, 80-yard drive that lasted more than five minutes. Dasher took in it from 29 yards out, and the score was 20-17.

Arkansas State had a great kickoff return to begin its next drive and was in position to add to its lead. However, the Red Wolves missed a 27-yard field goal attempt to give the ball back to the Blue Raiders. The MT defense had finally stopped the offensive downpour.

Dasher and the rest of the offense couldn’t take advantage and had to punt the ball back to Arkansas State with more than two minutes remaining before halftime. A key 47-yard reception by Dwayne Frampton put the Red Wolves in scoring position again, and this time the Arkansas State special team converted the 22-yard field goal. Still, the home team had scored on four of its five possessions, and Middle Tennessee was down just 23-17 going into halftime.

The Red Wolves opened up the second half with a solid drive but missed another field goal to keep the lead at six points. Then, the turnover bug bit the Blue Raiders yet again. Middle Tennessee committed six turnovers on seven second half possessions. It’s very simple; you just can’t turn the ball over that many times and expect to win.

The Arkansas State offense took advantage of these mistakes, scoring four touchdowns in the second half. Three of the scores were off Blue Raider turnovers. Middle Tennessee couldn’t overcome the SEVEN turnovers, and the Red Wolves took the victory 51-24.

The Blue Raiders came into the game last in the nation in turnover margin, and their effort Tuesday night didn’t help matters one bit. Middle Tennessee now has 28 turnovers on the year, four more than anybody else in the country. MTSU also drops to just 4-11 when playing on the ESPN family of networks.

With everybody expecting the Blue Raiders to run the table and receive a bowl bid, this came as a shock to the Murfreesboro area. Middle Tennessee drops to 3-5 on the season with four games remaining. If the Blue Raiders could win out, they would go 7-5 and could still possibly get into a bowl game. As we learned in Jonesboro though, Middle Tennessee needs to just worry about playing decent football if the team hopes to have any success in the remainder of the season.

What a Difference a Conference Makes
By Ethan Lannom

It was obvious that Middle Tennessee was back in the Sun Belt Conference in Saturday afternoon’s Homecoming contest. Despite the loss to Troy, the Blue Raiders are still the second-best Sun Belt team, and they showed it against Louisiana-Monroe.

Dwight Dasher led the offense to a field goal opportunity on the game’s opening drive, but Alan Gendreau missed the 47-yard attempt. On the Warhawks’ first possession, Rod Issac stepped in front of a Kolton Browning pass and took it 70 yards for the score. Finally, Middle Tennessee was on the right side of the turnover battle.

The Blue Raiders took the ball into Louisiana-Monroe territory on its next drive, but couldn’t make a short 3rd down conversion. Dasher fumbled the snap from under center at the ULM 45. It was the first snap Middle Tennessee had taken under center all season. It didn’t cost them in this game, but the Blue Raiders’ inability to take a normal snap needs to be addressed by the coaching staff.

Louisiana-Monroe converted the turnover into a field goal, making it 7-3. Middle Tennessee found the endzone again on its next drive, with two key receptions by Garrett Andrews. Dasher found Andrews on a crossing route for an 18-yard TD, the quarterback’s first passing touchdown of the season.

After the MT defense stopped the Warhawks again, the Blue Raider offense was successful through the air once more. Dasher connected with Tyler Mason for a 53-yard TD, increasing the lead to 21-3.

After another Louisiana-Monroe punt, the Middle Tennessee offense took over. This time it was Phillip Tanner on an excellent 25-yard TD run to put the score at 28-3. The teams traded interceptions going into halftime.

The second half was characterized by good defense and running the clock. The teams combined for 17 points in the final 30 minutes to give the Blue Raiders the victory, 38-10. Middle Tennessee’s next game will be at Arkansas State on November 2 on ESPN2.

Dasher looked the best he has all season against the Warhawks on Saturday. With 66 yards rushing, Dwight Dasher became the 19th player in FBS history to throw for 4,000 and run for 2,000 yards.

With last year’s six-game Sun Belt winning streak fresh on everyone’s minds, Middle Tennessee will be expected to cruise through the rest of the season. The Blue Raiders can’t afford to look past any of their opponents. If their Homecoming victory was any indication though, Middle Tennessee will do just fine in conference.

Turnovers, Turnovers, Turnovers
By Ethan Lannom

I hate to be repetitive and negative but sometimes it’s really hard to be a MTSU football fan. Going into the Georgia Tech game, I knew the Blue Raiders didn’t have a great chance of winning. I felt if Middle Tennessee played well and lost, the team could still feel good going into Sun Belt Conference action. Now, I don’t know what to think.

The game didn’t start off well as Georgia Tech scored on its first possession after a Dwight Dasher interception gave the Yellow Jackets the ball on the MT 34-yard line. This was the third time this season a Blue Raider opponent has scored on its opening drive of the game. It’s extremely difficult to win games when you’re always playing from behind.

After a Middle Tennessee punt, the MT defense forced a fumble and gave the ball back to its offense. Dasher led the Blue Raiders down to the Yellow Jacket 4-yard line. The MTSU quarterback had a receiver open in the endzone but under threw the pass for his second interception of the game.

The Blue Raider defense managed to stop the highly praised Georgia Tech offense again, this time on a 4th and 3 in Middle Tennessee territory. However, another Dasher mistake resulted in his third pick of the half. Georgia Tech took over at the Blue Raider 28 but could only manage a 41-yard field goal attempt. The Blue Raider kick team forced a miss, and the score remained 7-0.

On Georgia Tech’s next possession, the offense finally started clicking as the Yellow Jackets drove it 76 yards on 9 plays for a 14-0 lead. The drive finished with Joshua Nesbitt’s QB keeper from a yard out.

Middle Tennessee answered quickly as the Blue Raider offense picked up the pace. Dasher ended the scoring drive with a 6-yard TD run. As inconsistently as the MTSU offense played, Middle Tennessee went into halftime only down 14-7 on the road against Georgia Tech. If the Blue Raiders could have cut out the turnovers, things might have gone much differently.

Early in the second half, a poor punt by Josh Davis gave the Yellow Jackets the ball at the MT 45. Georgia Tech took advantage of the good field position and scored on just three plays, extending its lead to 14 points.

On the next Middle Tennessee drive, Dasher committed his fourth turnover of the game with a fumble at the MT 38. Once again, Georgia Tech had a short field to work with. You just can’t give a team this many opportunities to score on your side of the field, much less a team with the caliber of the Yellow Jackets. Five plays later, Nesbitt connected with Stephen Hill for a 26-yard TD.

Down three scores, Middle Tennessee still couldn’t hold onto the ball. Georgia Tech recovered a Phillip Tanner fumble at the MTSU 30, and you know what happens next. Anthony Allen scored on a five-yard option pitch, and the Yellow Jackets led 35-7.

Dasher did manage to find the endzone again in the fourth quarter with a 1-yard TD carry. The Middle Tennessee quarterback also threw his fourth pick of the game in the final period, which Georgia Tech turned into another touchdown, making the final 42-14.

Just looking at the box score, people might think the MT defense might be to blame for this loss. The Georgia Tech offense scored 28 points off of Blue Raider turnovers, which is the total margin of victory. The MTSU defense actually played well against the triple option of the Yellow Jackets, truly only giving up 14 points of its own accord.

This has been the story of the Middle Tennessee football team so far this season. The Blue Raiders trail only Duke in the entire nation in turnover margin. MTSU has turned the ball over 19 times in six games, and opponents have scored 79 points off those turnovers. Over the last four games (where the Blue Raiders are just 1-3), opponents have scored 17 times and 11 of those the competition has started its drive inside Middle Tennessee territory.

Even with a loss against Georgia Tech, I figured MTSU could still play well in conference, finish with a 7 or 8-win season, and possibly play in a bowl game. However, if turnovers continue to be a problem, it won’t matter who the Blue Raiders are playing. After all, anybody can win against you if you are beating yourself.

Proven Palladium Performers
By Ethan Lannom

In Greek mythology, the Palladium is a wooden statue that fell from the heavens. It was kept at the Temple of Athena in the city of Troy. As long as the Palladium was preserved within the city’s walls, Troy would be safe. However, a “Raider” by the name of Odysseus stole the Palladium during the Trojan War, leading to the fall of Troy.

In the spirit of this Blue Raiders-Trojans mythology link, Middle Tennessee and Troy compete in the “Battle for the Palladium” each year in their Sun Belt Conference game. Legend has it that the winner of the statue gains an unknown and unexplainable advantage over the other, making it more difficult to regain control during future battles.

Perhaps this explains Middle Tennessee’s lack of success against the Trojans over the past five years. Regardless, this was the Blue Raiders’ best opportunity to defeat Troy the last few seasons. Both teams came into the game with identical records, 2-2 overall and 1-0 in the Sun Belt. The Trojans lost their starting quarterback Levi Brown from last year, and MTSU had star player Dwight Dasher for the first time all season.

With Dasher back in the lineup, the Middle Tennessee fans showed up large, over 28,000 of them packing Floyd Stadium. This was the second largest crowd in Floyd Stadium history. The spectators would quickly realize what a spectacle the game would become.

The Blue Raider offense started a little stiff, which was to be expected with Dasher’s first snaps since the New Orleans Bowl last December. The Trojan defense got a quick three-and-out and gave the ball to the potent offense. Troy made it look easy, driving 55 yards on eight plays to open up a 7-0 lead. On the Trojans’ first possession, four different players took a snap from center and showed the Blue Raiders some diverse looks.

On the next play from scrimmage for Middle Tennessee, Dasher fell on his non-throwing hand, dislocating his left pinkie. After the endless wait for Dasher’s return, he gets injured on the second drive of the game. Jeff Murphy begins the next Blue Raider drive and promptly fumbles to give the ball back to Troy. Four plays later, Trojan QB Corey Robinson found Tebiarus Gill in the back of the endzone to make it 14-0.

After a few failed drives, Troy scores again on a 3-yard run TD run by D.J. Taylor. This game is becoming painfully predictable like the previous four contests.

Middle Tennessee finally manages points with a 1-yard QB draw from Dasher to put the score at 21-7 going into halftime. Despite how horribly the Blue Raiders played in the first half, they were still just two touchdowns down.

The MT defense forced a Trojan punt, and the momentum was on the Middle Tennessee’s side. Dasher’s rustiness caught up with him, and he threw an interception at the Troy 39-yard line. The Trojans drove down the field, but their 34-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Jamari Lattimore.

Blue Raider punter Josh Davis pinned Troy deep at its own 13-yard line. The Trojans managed 67 yards on the first two plays of the drive, and the special teams play was negated. Troy drove the rest of the field to make it 28-7, capping the drive with a 9-yard connection from Robinson to Gill. As Blue Raider announcer Chip Walters put it, “This is Troy in a rebuilding year.”

The teams traded somewhat meaningless touchdowns in the second half as the visitors had claimed the Palladium once again with a 42-13 win. It seems as if there might really be something to the legend. With each Troy victory in the series (five in a row), it gets more and more difficult for Middle Tennessee to mount a stand against the Trojan warriors.

It wasn’t just that the Blue Raiders lost. It was how they lost. One caller on the local post-game radio show summed it up best. He said they played with “no effort, no heart.” That’s the worst thing you can be told as a football team. Whether you are a mythological warrior fighting to capture a city or a football player fighting to capture a trophy, you have to actually go out there and fight.

Back Where They Left Off
By Ethan Lannom

After opening the season with three non-conference games, Middle Tennessee was glad to begin Sun Belt Conference action against Louisiana-Lafayette. The Blue Raiders looked to continue their six-game winning streak in conference from last year.

On the Ragin’ Cajuns’ first offensive play, Chris Masson found Javone Lawson across the middle of the field. Rod Issac managed to force a fumble on the play, and Derrick Crumpton returned it 31 yards into Louisiana-Lafayette territory.

Kicker Alan Gendreau knocked in a 40-yard field goal to give the Blue Raiders a 3-0 lead. Middle Tennessee took advantage of the turnover, which is the opposite of what happened last week at Memphis.

The Ragin’ Cajuns had their first scoring opportunity late in the first quarter, but Issac was the man again as he blocked the 41-yard field goal attempt. On Middle Tennessee’s next drive, the quick-tempo offense uncharacteristically went 76 yards on 16 plays in more than five minutes. D.D. Kyles finished it with an 8-yard scamper to make it 10-0.

Louisiana-Lafayette found its offensive rhythm on its next possession as Masson connected with NFL prospect Ladarius Green in the back of the endzone for a 3-yard TD pass.

With the ensuing kickoff going out-of-bounds, the Blue Raiders started their drive on the 40-yard line. Middle Tennessee scored on just four plays, with the possession ending on a brilliant 27-yard run by Phillip Tanner. Again, this game was marked by the Blue Raiders taking advantage of Louisiana-Lafayette’s mistakes instead of the other way around.

On the next MT drive although, it looked like déjà vu all over again for the Blue Raiders. Kilgore threw his first interception of the game, and the Ragin’ Cajuns started their drive on the MT 31-yard line. The team from Louisiana quickly scored to cut the deficit to 17-14.

With the Middle Tennessee momentum waning, the Blue Raider offense knocked it up a notch. The unit drove into position for a long field goal try for Gendreau. There is a saying that states, “Fortune favors the bold.” Basically, this just means not to be scared and go for it when the opportunity presents itself. With just more than a minute remaining before halftime, Coach Rick Stockstill took the riskier of his two options. He sent his kicker out to attempt a 55-yard field goal and…it worked! It was the second-longest field goal in school history, and it gave the Blue Raiders a 20-14 lead. Much more importantly, it gave the struggling team a boost of confidence heading into the second half.

The MT defense pitched an impressive shutout for the rest of the game. Middle Tennessee scored two more times on long plays in the third quarter. First, it was a 62-yard connection from Kilgore to Malcolm Beyah to put the Blue Raiders up by 13 points. Then, Kyles got into the endzone again on a 74-yard run to seal the game. Middle Tennessee is 53-8 when leading after three quarters. This week proved no different as neither team scored in the fourth to put the final at 34-14.

The Blue Raiders evened their record at 2-2 for the season. All eyes are now on the October 5th match-up against Troy on ESPN 2. This will be Dwight Dasher’s first game back from his suspension. Although fans should expect him to be rusty, how this game goes could be foretelling for the rest of the season. Middle Tennessee doesn’t have to win, but it needs to play well against a quality opponent to feel like this season is completely back on track.

Turnovers Costly in Memphis Loss
By Ethan Lannom

Good news: The NCAA decision on Dwight Dasher was announced this week. Bad news: He’s out for four games. Athletic Director Chris Massaro said the team would try to get the suspension reduced, but the NCAA will probably uphold its decision. Dasher’s next game will be against Troy on October 5 on ESPN 2.

Logan Kilgore was back as the Blue Raiders’ quarterback on Saturday night. The MT offense started strong as Kilgore led the unit to a 32-yard field goal to give Middle Tennessee a 3-0 lead.

After a Memphis punt, the Blue Raiders looked to add to their lead. However, Kilgore overthrew his receiver, resulting in an interception. The Tigers took over at the Blue Raider 39-yard line and kicked a field goal to tie the score at 3-3.

Middle Tennessee had come into the game with a -2 turnover margin for the season, unthinkable under a team coached by Rick Stockstill. The Blue Raiders had +29 and +27 turnover margins the previous two years. Turnovers would prove to be a vital decider in the outcome of this game.

On its next drive, Middle Tennessee failed on a 4th and 7 on the Memphis 35, but the MT defense forced a three-out to give the ball back to its offense. Kilgore then throws another pick, and Memphis again has a short field to work with. Shoddy quarterback play hurt the Blue Raiders again this week, although it was a different quarterback this time around. The Memphis offense does its job and takes the lead 10-3.

Middle Tennessee tried to bounce back on its next possession, but a Phillip Tanner fumble gifted Memphis the ball once more. Turnovers were coming at the same rate as the Austin Peay game. The Tigers are a much more capable opponent though. Memphis scores again off a turnover and increases its lead to two touchdowns.

The Blue Raiders finally regrouped on their next drive, scoring on four plays in just more than a minute. Kilgore found Malcolm Beyah down the right sideline for a 52-yard TD to cut the deficit to 17-10. The teams traded punts going into halftime, including a 78-yard punt from Middle Tennessee.

The MT defense forced a quick Memphis punt to open the third quarter. Can you guess what happens next? Another Kilgore interception gives the Tigers the ball at the Blue Raider 44. After playing in the shadows of its goalposts for almost the entire game, the Middle Tennessee defense finally broke down. Unnecessary penalties for pass interference and a facemask gave Memphis 30 free yards down to the 14-yard line. The Tigers took advantage of this lapse in concentration and Middle Tennessee’s fourth turnover to go ahead 24-10.

With a disappointing performance from Kilgore, Coach Stockstill decided to put in last week’s starter, Jeff Murphy. Murphy led the Blue Raiders on a 69-yard drive that ended with a QB draw for a touchdown from a yard out. Despite all of the mistakes, Middle Tennessee had pulled within a score going into the fourth quarter.

Memphis had troubles fielding the ensuing kickoff and started the drive from their own four-yard line. The Blue Raider defense stopped the Tigers, but Middle Tennessee had to punt the ball right back. The Blue Raiders got something going a couple of drives later and had the ball in the red zone. On a second down play, Murphy just missed a connection with Beyah to knot up the score. In frustration, Beyah kicked the ball away and induced an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. This mental error made it 3rd and 26. After a negative play and a delay of game violation, Middle Tennessee went from possibly tying the game to punting from the Memphis 42-yard line.

The Blue Raiders had another shot in the red zone, but they managed not to score again. Memphis took the victory 24-17, scoring all of its points off of Middle Tennessee turnovers.

“We gotta take care of the ball” has been a standard phrase for football coaches since the invention of the forward pass. Although it’s an obvious and mundane statement, perhaps the MTSU team should take heed of that creed the next time Coach Stockstill barks it at them.

Winning Ugly
By Ethan Lannom

With rain in the forecast for Saturday night’s game against Austin Peay, you might have expected some sloppy play. The thing is…it didn’t rain. I guess Middle Tennessee didn’t get the message.

The game began great for the Blue Raiders despite having to start third-string QB Jeff Murphy. Last week’s starter Logan Kilgore was injured in practice earlier in the week. Murphy led Middle Tennessee to a touchdown on its opening drive with three solid completions.

Less than a minute later, Darin Davis intercepted Austin Peay QB Jake Ryan’s pass and returned it 38 yards to put the Blue Raiders up 14-0. Middle Tennessee fans thought Davis had his second pick on Austin Peay’s next drive, but it was called back after MTSU was flagged for offsides. The Governors proceeded to kick a 28-yard field goal, making the score 14-3.

On Austin Peay’s next drive, the Middle Tennessee defense stood strong on a 4th-and-1 at the Governors’ 44. The Blue Raiders marched down the field, and Murphy scored on an 11-yard QB draw for his first career touchdown.

The two teams then traded touchdown drives to put the score at 28-10. RB Benjamin Cunningham ran it in from five yards out on the next Middle Tennessee drive to increase the lead to 25 points.

Austin Peay’s Terrence Holt took the ensuing kickoff return to the MT 46-yard line. The Governors had a chance to put more points on the board, but they missed a 46-yard field goal attempt. This is where it gets fun.

With 34 seconds left in the half and a solid 25-point lead, you would think the Blue Raiders might play it conservatively. You would think wrong. Sheldon Wade intercepted a Murphy pass at midfield. Jake Ryan then found Adrian Mines in the endzone with three seconds remaining in the half to cut the deficit to 18 points.

The Austin Peay momentum continued as the Governors scored on the opening possession of the third quarter with a 20-yard field goal. Still, the Blue Raiders led by 15 points. Inexplicably, Middle Tennessee chooses to go for a 4th-and-1 on the Austin Peay 40, and the decision backfires. The Governors score on two plays in just 37 seconds to pull within one score.

Fortunately for the Blue Raiders, Austin Peay drops a sure interception on the next MT drive. The offense takes advantage, and RB Phillip Tanner took it in from a yard out for his third score of the night.

After an Austin Peay punt, the Blue Raiders looked in control. On the first play of the drive though, Murphy fumbled, and Jeremy Ross gathered it up and went 16 yards for a Governor touchdown. Austin Peay botched the PAT snap, and the lead is just 42-33. This game is way more interesting than it should be.

Murphy coughs up the ball again on the next drive, and the Governors pounce on it for their third takeaway of the game. The Blue Raider defense picks up the slack and forces an Austin Peay punt. The teams trade punts, and Middle Tennessee thinks it has a punt return for a touchdown. A block in the back call brings it back. The Blue Raiders keep that momentum and score on a 19-second drive to push the lead to 49-33.

MTSU tacks on another score in the fourth quarter with a 96-yard drive, and the final tally is 56-33.

The positives: 654 yards and 56 points on 97 plays for the MT offense. 7 rushing touchdowns on the night. The MT defense forces two interceptions.

The negatives: 8 penalties for 95 yards. The MT offense commits four turnovers.

In conclusion, it was a very up-and-down game that could have cost Middle Tennessee against a better opponent. When the clock hit triple zeros, everyone in Floyd Stadium exhaled a huge sigh of relief.

Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger
By Ethan Lannom

To tell the story of the MTSU-Minnesota game on Thursday night, let’s first look back to the turmoil that was the Blue Raider offseason.

Coordinators on both sides of the ball left Middle Tennessee for greener pastures. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz took the same position at Mississippi State, while Tony Franklin became the offensive coordinator for Louisiana Tech. Randall McCray and Mike Schultz took over these job vacancies respectively. Also, John Palermo stepped in as defensive line coach after the resignation of Les Herrin. The Blue Raiders did manage to keep head coach Rick Stockstill from going to East Carolina by giving him a $200,000 raise.

I’m not diminishing the talent and effort of these coaching replacements. However, it is difficult to lose the coaches that guided Middle Tennessee to a 10-3 record last year. On top of that, star quarterback Dwight Dasher was suspended by the NCAA for taking a $1,500 loan in violation of NCAA rules. With three new coaches and a first-time starting quarterback in Logan Kilgore, the game looked bleak as the Blue Raiders kicked off to begin the game.

The first drive wasn’t much more promising as Minnesota drove and scored a touchdown with an 11 play, 79-yard drive. Nobody was more nervous to start the game than replacement Logan Kilgore. With less than five minutes remaining in the first quarter, wide receiver Garrett Andrews tipped a pass from Kilgore, and Minnesota got the interception. Fortunately for Middle Tennessee, the defense held and forced the Golden Gophers to punt.

After another failed MT drive, Minnesota scored again on a long drive to extend the lead to 14 points. The Golden Gophers got the ball back, but missed a 39-yard field goal on their next possession to keep the lead at 14. This seemed to ignite the Blue Raiders as they proceeded to score in less than two minutes on a 7-yard run by running back Phillip Tanner.

Middle Tennessee forced Minnesota to punt on its next possession, and Kilgore guided the offense down the field. In just 44 seconds, the Blue Raiders tied the game at 14. Minnesota missed another field goal at the end of the first half, and the score remained 14-14.

Tanner broke a huge run on the opening drive of the second half to the Minnesota 17. The Golden Gopher defense forced Middle Tennessee into a 31-field goal to make the score 17-14.

In the fourth quarter, Minnesota methodically marched to the Blue Raider 2-yard line before being stopped by the MT defense. The 20-yard field goal tied the game at 17 with 14:11 remaining in regulation.

After a short-lived Middle Tennessee drive, Minnesota took the lead with a grinding effort lasting 9:10 to take control 24-17 with 3:09 left in the game.

Even with that effort, the Blue Raiders still had a chance. You know what happens next. In true blue fashion, Middle Tennessee fumbled the game away on the kickoff return before even giving Kilgore the opportunity to win the game. Minnesota held the ball for the final three minutes and took the win 24-17.

A lot of people will blame this loss on the absence of Dwight Dasher, but this is not the case. Kilgore played a great game for his first time out and just had the one unlucky interception. If anything, blame the usually steady Blue Raider defense that allowed the Minnesota offense to stay on the field for 45 minutes of the game. It’s hard to win when your offense has the ball just a fourth of the time.

All things considered, for MTSU to lose three coaches and its Heisman-contending quarterback and only lose by seven to a Big Ten school, it’s really not so bad. Sometimes a team is just a little better than its opponent, and that was the case on Thursday night.

New Half, Same Story
By Ethan Lannom

Inconsistent-adj: a. not regular or predictable; erratic. b. lacking in correct logical relation; contradictory. c. not in agreement or harmony; incompatible.

This is the literal definition of inconsistent. The Middle Tennessee baseball team would be the metaphorical meaning of the word. The Blue Raiders finished out the regular season with 18 wins and 13 losses. Yes, they were above .500, but this is a team that dominated the Sun Belt Conference last year.

Middle Tennessee’s second half consisted of two and three-game stretches either winning or losing. In fact, the team did not win or lose more than three games in a row past its four-game winning streak back in March. That’s a poor record for the conference’s defending champions.

Middle Tennessee star Bryce Brentz was out part of the season with a stress fracture in his right ankle. He is a huge part to this team, but you can’t blame the fluctuating results solely on his injury.

Still, the Blue Raiders were in a favorable position. The Sun Belt Championships were being held on the MTSU campus, and Middle Tennessee was playing Troy in the fist round, a team they had beaten in the regular season series.

However, the team could not take advantage. The Blue Raiders were run-ruled for the second game in a row, losing 15-4 in the eighth inning. Then, they had to go to the loser’s bracket to face UL-Lafayette in an elimination game.

Playing poorly in the games leading up, you would think Middle Tennessee wouldn’t stand a chance. Wrong. The Blue Raiders shut out the Ragin’ Cajuns 3-0 in a great performance. In true Middle Tennessee fashion, the team had lost when it was supposed to win and vice versa.

Now, the Blue Raiders were set to play Troy again in another elimination game. Things looked promising as Middle Tennessee led 5-2 going into the bottom of the eighth. But as my dad told me one time, “This team will build you up, and then tear your heart out.”

On this occasion, it was no different. The Trojans scored three runs in the eighth inning to tie the game at five. In the bottom of the ninth, Troy’s Steven Felix ended the Blue Raiders’ season with a walk-off home run over the left field wall.

After all the turmoil during the season, Middle Tennessee still had a chance to win and blew it. Where’s my surgeon to put this thing back in?

A Stretch of Mediocrity
By Ethan Lannom

Before the 2010 season began, things could not have been looking better for the Middle Tennessee baseball team. Head coach Steve Peterson was honored as the South Region Coach of the Year for the first time in his 22-year coaching career. Peterson was also named the top coach in the state by the Tennessee Baseball Coaches Association. Last year, the Blue Raiders went 44-18 and won both the Sun Belt Conference regular season and tournament titles for the first time. Middle Tennessee also made its 14th appearance in the NCAA tournament.

Coach Peterson was not the only person being awarded preseason accolades. Junior Bryce Brentz was named No. 2 on the Top 100 players list released by the College Baseball Blog. Brentz has a career batting average of .400 with 46 home runs and 141 RBI. Brentz has also pitched well with a 6-3 record posting a 3.99 ERA and 86 strikeouts. In 2009, Brentz led the nation in four statistical categories and received consensus All-America and Preseason All-America honors headed into this season.

Brentz was also named to the Golden Spikes Watch list. He is one of 50 players on the “rolling” list to ensure that athletes can play themselves into consideration for the award. Brentz was named the Sun Belt Preseason Player of the Year as well; therefore, expectations are astronomically high coming into the 2010 season for the junior outfielder and pitcher.

In addition, senior Kenny Roberts received some preseason honors this year. Roberts was named the Sun Belt Preseason Pitcher of the Year after having an excellent season, winning eleven out of twelve games with a 3.04 ERA. Roberts was the Most Outstanding Player of the Sun Belt Championships after getting two wins on short rest and received First Team All-Conference. Roberts was also on the initial list of 30 players nominated for the Lowe’s Senior CLASS award.

Along with Brentz and Roberts, junior Tyler Burnett was named to the Sun Belt Preseason team as a shortstop. It’s the first time since 2006 the Blue Raiders have had three players on the conference preseason team.

After ending the 2009 season setting team records in wins, hits, runs, doubles, home runs, RBI, and double plays, Middle Tennessee was picked to finish first in the Sun Belt by the league’s coaches. Despite all of this preseason hype, Coach Peterson told me that his team wouldn’t worry about it and didn’t feel any pressure. I have to be honest; I didn’t really believe him, but the beginning of the season proved the head coach correct.

The Blue Raider baseball team began the year hot, winning seven out of its first eight games. In the middle of the season, Middle Tennessee has cooled down and is just 8-7 in its last fifteen contests. Last week’s games demonstrated the same trend as the Blue Raiders went 2-2.

Middle Tennessee even fluctuated dramatically during one day in a doubleheader against South Alabama Saturday. In the first game, junior Justin Miller tied the school record for RBI as he drove in eight runs after hitting two home runs and a double. The Blue Raiders took the win 19-10. The second game was another story. Middle Tennessee managed just four hits as they fell 15-0.

If the Blue Raiders hope to continue the success they enjoyed last year, they are going to need to find some consistency. Next week, the team will see if it can pull itself out of this funk with two non-conference opponents and a three-game weekend series at Florida Atlantic.

Not Quite
By Ethan Lannom

After telling you last week that the Blue Raider women deserved better than a 10 seed, I feel foolish yet smart at the same time. Let me explain.

Middle Tennessee SHOULD have won this game. MTSU led for only 38 MINUTES out of 40 in the contest. It was eerily reminiscent of last year’s opening round game in the NCAA tournament against Michigan State. Granted the Blue Raiders were on the Spartans’ home floor, but Middle Tennessee still led by double digits in the second half and gave it away, losing by one point.

The MT women looked to have the game in hand with a 26-11 lead midway through the first half. With more than four minutes to go, All-American Alysha Clark picked up her third foul and had to go to the bench. Mississippi State took advantage and cut the Middle Tennessee lead to just two points going into halftime.

With the Blue Raiders up nine points with less than five minutes remaining, I thought they had it under control. Then, the unthinkable happened. The Bulldogs went on a 9-0 run to tie the game at 64-64 with 1:27 to play in regulation. It was Michigan State all over again.

Mississippi State’s Armelie Lumanu scored the game’s final four points as the Bulldogs took the victory 68-64.

Middle Tennessee just choked. That’s all you can say. Two years in a row, the Blue Raiders were up 15 points in the second half and lost. The MT women didn’t even score in the final 4:39 of the game. When the game was tied at 64-64, MTSU managed just one shot attempt by Alysha Clark the rest of the way. It was a complete collapse.

Clark ended the game under her scoring average, putting up 17 points and getting 14 rebounds for her 75th career double-double. She finishes the season tied for fourth with LSU’s Sylvia Fowles on the NCAA’s all-time list of career double-doubles. Clark also scored 2,852 points in her career, which is 12th in NCAA history.

In other words, Middle Tennessee has had the nation’s leading scorer for the past three years only to see itself implode when crunch time came. It’s a tough way to go out for the Blue Raider senior class, and this might have been the best shot for the MTSU women to make a run in the tournament.

First, the Middle Tennessee men lose a winnable game, now the women. Hopefully, next week will bring better Blue Raider athletic news; it’s baseball season!

One Down, One to Go
By Ethan Lannom

The MTSU men went into the Sun Belt tournament with all the hopes of the U.S. men’s hockey team (silver medal) and left with the results of the U.S. curling team (zero wins).

Middle Tennessee had the three seed and a bye going into the tournament. Things were looking good for the Blue Raiders for the first time in a while. Unfortunately, the men could not maintain their great late-season run into conference tournament as they fell to Denver 73-58.

Middle Tennessee had two seven-minute stretches in which it did not score. Obviously, that spelled disaster for the Blue Raiders. However, the MT men had a pretty good year considering star player Desmond Yates was injured for the beginning of the season.

Middle Tennessee head coach Kermit Davis received the Sun Belt Coach of the Year award for his efforts in the 2009-2010 season. The Blue Raiders are also playing in their first postseason tournament since 1989. Middle Tennessee will face Missouri State in the first round of the CollegeInsider.com Tournament.

As for the women, they fared much better and are on their way to the NCAA tournament. The number two seed Middle Tennessee began the Sun Belt tournament with a 106-66 victory over North Texas. This was the Blue Raiders’ seventh time going over 100 points, the best in the nation. All-American Alysha Clark set a tournament record for individual points with 40 on 16-of-23 shooting.

Next, Middle Tennessee took on number three seed Western Kentucky in the semifinals. Clark once again set the Sun Belt tournament record for single-game points with 44 points along with 14 rebounds for her 73rd double-double of her career. This effort moves her fifth all-time on the NCAA list for career double-doubles. The Blue Raiders got the win 76-63.

In the Sun Belt tournament final, the women faced UALR, the only team Middle Tennessee lost to in conference. The game was close throughout and had to be decided in overtime. With 1.8 seconds remaining, Alysha Clark (of course) came through with a bank shot to win the game 70-68. The victory guaranteed a spot for the Blue Raiders in the NCAA tournament.

Clark was named the Sun Belt tournament’s Most Outstanding Player after breaking her own single-game scoring record in the final with 48 points and setting the overall tournament record for points with an output of 132. The record is the most points by a player ever in a conference tournament in NCAA women’s basketball history. The previous highest total was by Maine’s Cindy Blodgett in the 1997 America East Championships.

If I told you that a team was top ten in the nation for three-pointers made per game, turnover margin, scoring offense, steals per game, scoring margin, field goal percentage, assists per game, assist to turnover ratio, won its conference tournament, had the conference player of the year, had the conference defensive player of the year, had the conference tournament player of the year, had a player leading the nation in scoring, and was ranked No. 24 in the nation, you might think they deserve a decent seed. Then again, you might be the NCAA selection committee.

Middle Tennessee will play No. 7 seed Mississippi State as a No. 10 seed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The game will be around 1:30 Central on Sunday. If the Blue Raiders could win that matchup, they would face the winner of Ohio State and St. Francis (PA.) in the second round on Tuesday.

It may sound like I’m a little frustrated, and it’s because I am. I don’t really understand it, but there’s nothing to do now except play the games ahead of them. Head coach Rick Insell will have his team focused and ready to play. It’s time to sit back and watch the Madness unfold!

Blue Raiders Finish Strong
By Ethan Lannom

The Middle Tennessee men’s team ended the regular season on a three-game winning streak and winning six of their last seven. First, the Blue Raiders pulled out a close 74-71 victory at Florida International.

Senior Calvin O’Neil led the way with 19 points and 8 rebounds. Balance helped Middle Tennessee as five players were in double figures. It’s a good sign to see the Blue Raiders winning these tight contests. Those kinds of games will be huge in deciding the outcome of their season.

In the final game of the regular season, Middle Tennessee took on Florida Atlantic. It was a tough defensive struggle as Calvin O’Neil led the Blue Raiders with 13 points. However, the men came out with the win 66-57.

With the victory, Middle Tennessee clinched a share of the Sun Belt East Division title. It’s the first time the Blue Raiders have won a share of the Sun Belt title. It’s also the first time Middle Tennessee has won a share of any league title since 1988.

The men’s team is now 19-12 on the season which is the first 19-win season since 2004. In the Sun Belt Conference, the Blue Raiders were 13-5, its best record since joining the league in 2000. Middle Tennessee will either play Denver or Florida International in the quarterfinals. The Blue Raiders earned a first round bye as the number three seed in the tournament.

The women’s team completed its schedule in even better fashion than the men, winning its final thirteen games of the regular season. Against Florida International, Middle Tennessee used a 28-0 first half run to pull away from the Golden Panthers.

The Blue Raiders won convincingly 101-58, reaching 100 points for the fifth time in their last seven games. All-American Alysha Clark led all players with 25 points on an 11-of-12 shooting performance.

Defense led the way for Middle Tennessee at Florida Atlantic with the Blue Raiders forcing 25 turnovers for an 88-71 win over the Owls. Alysha Clark again led all participants with 36 points and 13 rebounds for her 71st career double-double. Clark is now seventh on the all-time NCAA list for double-doubles.

Clark also won the Sun Belt Player of the Year award, making her only the third player in NCAA history to win a conference Player of the Year honor four years in a row.

The Blue Raiders will play as a number two seed in the Sun Belt tournament and their opponent has not been determined yet.

MT Basketball Continues Playing Well
By Ethan Lannom

The MTSU men fought valiantly Thursday night but lost a close one to the Troy Trojans 66-62. Middle Tennessee managed to stay in the game, allowing only nine points in the final seven minutes of the contest. Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, the deficit was too much to overcome.

However, I can’t be too displeased with the men’s effort. In the first half of the season, the team would go away in the second half of games. That led to a multitude of close losses. In this game, the Blue Raiders played much better in the final minutes, especially defensively.

Although Middle Tennessee got down early, the squad still had a chance to win it at the end. At the end of the day, that is what you want from your team.

The Blue Raiders bounced back against South Alabama in their final home game of the season, winning 81-54. Middle Tennessee looks to remain in good form when it travels to Florida next weekend to take on Florida International and Florida Atlantic to close out the regular season.

The Middle Tennessee women just continue to play extremely well, winning two more games this week to bring their winning streak to eleven games. The Blue Raiders clinched the Sun Belt Conference East Division with a victory over Troy Wednesday night.

All five starters scored in double figures for the first time this season, as Middle Tennessee won convincingly 106-84. The Blue Raiders jumped out to a quick 19-8 lead in the first five minutes of the game. This seems to be vital for their success because when they get on a roll, it’s hard to stop them.

All-World player Alysha Clark had yet another double-double, scoring 36 points and getting 19 rebounds. This effort moved her into seventh place on the NCAA’s all-time list with 69 career double-doubles.

In the women’s final home game of the season, Middle Tennessee did not disappoint. The Blue Raiders got their 20th win of the season for the seventh-straight year, extending their own school record. With the 100-78 win, the women have scored 100 points in consecutive games and at least 90 points in four straight games, both firsts in the Coach Rick Insell era.

Alysha Clark again played a fantastic game, putting up 47 points, a Murphy Center record. She also had a career-high 22 field goals in the contest.

Senior Chelsia Lymon also stepped up with the first double-double of her career. She also became the 23rd player in school history to score 1,000 career points.

The Blue Raiders only committed six turnovers in the game, another good sign heading to the end of the year. With two regular season games remaining, Middle Tennessee is looking good for a solid postseason run in the Sun Belt and NCAA tournaments.

Record-Setting and a “Poor” Performance
By Ethan Lannom

The Blue Raiders sustained their great run during the second half of the season with wins over Denver and Houston Baptist this week.

Thursday night against Denver was another example of the type of close game Middle Tennessee has won during this streak. Most of the contest was a battle, but the MTSU men found a way to get the victory 57-50.

The Blue Raiders’ 55 percent shooting in the second half was vital to their win. Being able to close out games has been important for Middle Tennessee and will continue to be as they close out their Sun Belt Conference schedule.

On Saturday night, the Blue Raiders took on their last non-conference opponent, Houston Baptist. The result showed how dominant Middle Tennessee was in the game, getting the win 109-79. This was the first time since the 2001-02 season that the Blue Raiders scored 100 points in a game.

Junior James Washington led the way with a record-breaking performance. Washington made 10 of 17 three-pointers, setting the school record in that department. Washington’s 34 points were also the most by a Blue Raider since 1994.

As a team, Middle Tennessee knocked down 15 from behind the arc, tying its own record set against Eastern Kentucky in 2000.

It was also nice to see the MTSU bench making most of the opportunity; the Blue Raider bench players scored 35 points in the contest, and ended the game on a 20-8 run.

The Middle Tennessee women did not disappoint either. The women’s team took on Denver Wednesday night. The Blue Raider defense was top-notch the entire game, forcing 34 turnovers, including 23 in the first half. Despite Denver’s miscues in the early going, the offense stalled for Middle Tennessee as they led only 3-2 after the first media timeout.

After that, Coach Rick Insell lit a fire under his team, and the Blue Raiders jumped out to a lead and never looked back. The MT women won convincingly 94-78.

If there was a problem with the win, it was the lack of focus during the latter stages of the second half. Although the game was in hand, Denver ended the game on a 31-12 run. I’m sure Coach Insell told his team that type of letdown is unacceptable.

I know it didn’t cost the Blue Raiders in this circumstance. However, Middle Tennessee can’t let this happen against better opponents. This could cost them a game in the Sun Belt tournament if they aren’t careful. And that could make getting a NCAA tournament bid a lot tougher.

Maintaining Men, Wonderful Women, and Stockstill Staying
By Ethan Lannom

The Middle Tennessee men tried to valiantly come back Thursday night against the Troy Trojans, but they just fell short 70-67. The Blue Raiders started off poorly as Troy jumped out to a ten point lead early in the first half. It’s so difficult to get back into the game when you get down early as the MTSU squad did.

However, the Blue Raiders had their chances. With 20 seconds remaining, Trevor Ottley had a free throw to tie the contest at 68. He failed to convert though, and Troy clung on for the victory.

Saturday afternoon’s game looked like it would have the same end result. Middle Tennessee got down 22-6 in the first half against South Alabama. The Blue Raiders were able to recover this time, using great defense and a balanced attack to pull out the win 80-68. Even with the loss to Troy, the men have won six of their last seven games and look to be a force in the Sun Belt Conference.

On the other hand, the MTSU women are almost always a threat in the Sun Belt. The women’s basketball team has been proving this theory true for the last couple of weeks.

Even distribution of the offense seems vital for the women’s squad like their male counterparts. The Blue Raiders won convincingly over Troy Wednesday night 84-51. Four Middle Tennessee starters scored at least 14 points in the victory over the Trojans.

The Blue Raider women continued their hot streak as they defeated South Alabama on Saturday 100-52. All-American Alysha Clark got back on track with her first double-double in three games, scoring 34 points and grabbing 11 rebounds.

Clark’s effort tied the Mitchell Center’s record for individual points. She has also recently been named a Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award finalist and a First Team All-District IV selection. Clark’s performance was her 68th career double-double, which moved her into a tie for seventh on the NCAA’s all-time list.

As a team, Middle Tennessee set the three-point record at South Alabama’s arena, hitting 17 behind the arc in the contest.

Sidenote: I wanted to talk for a minute about Coach Rick Stockstill of the football team staying at MTSU. In this era of coaches leaving for greener pastures (a.k.a the Lane Kiffin decision), I was really glad to see Coach Stockstill not just look for extra money.

He was offered the job at East Carolina, where he would have made around 1.6 million a year. Instead, he chose to stay with his players and recruits at a place where he made less than 300,000 dollars. Granted, Coach Stockstill did receive a pay increase because of his decision to remain at Middle Tennessee. Still, I was very impressed by his choice, and his decision shows his true character and respect for the MTSU football program.

Breathtaking Basketball
By Ethan Lannom

To put it simply, Middle Tennessee basketball is on a roll. It started a couple of weeks ago for the men’s team with the game-winning shot against Western Kentucky. They are now 5-0 in this stretch, winning narrowly in four of those games.

On Saturday night, the Blue Raiders took care of North Texas at home 69-64. Four players scored in double figures as Middle Tennessee showed balance it rarely had before. This game also moved the team into a first-place tie in the East Division of the Sun Belt Conference with Florida Atlantic.

These are fantastic results for the men’s squad. However, the women of MTSU are the real stars on campus, as they showed Saturday afternoon.

Of course, Alysha Clark has been great, currently fourth in the nation in points per game. Clark is now in the top ten on the NCAA career double-double list. The other Blue Raiders have been stepping up their level of play as well.

Against North Texas on Saturday, senior Brandi Brown became the school’s all-time leader in three-pointers made. Middle Tennessee used a 28-0 run to go into halftime ahead 64-26. The first half total of 64 points was the second most in MTSU history, second only to the 67 the team put up against Maryville on December 6, 1976.

The Blue Raiders were also hot behind the three-point arc, converting a dozen first-half attempts. That effort tied Middle Tennessee’s record set at New Orleans on January 28, 2006.

Coach Rick Insell did not tell his team to let up one bit going into the second half. Another unanswered streak of 23-0 ensued in the last twenty minutes. Halfway through the second half, the stretch of points ended with the score at 100-36, a 64-point margin. This wasn’t even the largest of the game. With less than two minutes remaining, the Blue Raiders had their largest lead at 119-47, 72 points in front.

The game mercifully finished with Middle Tennessee winning 119-51. The 119 points was a single-game school record, passing the 116 the Blue Raiders scored in the abovementioned Maryville game. The women’s 68-point margin of victory is the third-largest in MTSU history, coming just short of the final 105-32 win at Alabama-Huntsville on February 3, 1988 in which the team scored 73 points more than its opponent.

MT also tied its record for three-pointers, making 20 of its tries. The effort equaled the squad’s output at Louisville on December 9, 2009. The amount is one short of the NCAA all-time record.

Some people might consider this unnecessarily running up the score. I know one thing though; Coach Insell calls it something else: preparing for March.

Transfer of Power
By Ethan Lannom

Perhaps by talking about how good the men’s basketball team was at Western Kentucky, I motivated Middle Tennessee to take charge in this week’s games. Regardless, the Blue Raiders went 3-0 with two wins over the vaunted Hilltoppers.

I will admit that Monday night’s game was lucky. Both teams played horribly, especially Western Kentucky, which at one point in the first half was shooting 7 percent from the field. However, MTSU had about a ten-point lead through most of the second half.

Then, the inevitable happened: the Blue Raiders started to give the game away. Western Kentucky did begin to play better, but Middle Tennessee was completely choking. With 8.1 seconds remaining, junior James Washington hit a three-pointer to put the Blue Raiders in the lead 47-46. Although the game was almost given to them, Middle Tennessee still had to take advantage of the opportunity.

MT then played a good game at Louisiana-Monroe, with four players scoring in double figures. James Washington led the way with 20 points.

Now, it was the big test. The team had to go on the road to face Western Kentucky. I knew the Hilltoppers would be angry after losing Monday night’s contest. I honestly thought Middle Tennessee didn’t have much of a chance.

The Blue Raiders proved me wrong again. Senior Desmond Yates became the all-time leading scoring in MTSU history as Middle Tennessee defeated Western Kentucky 84-74 on ESPN 2. The squad also got back to the basics as I told them to do in an earlier article. Their last two games they have shot over 80 percent from the free-throw line, a vast improvement over the rest of the season.

This was Middle Tennessee’s first season sweep of the Hilltoppers since the 1974-75 season.

In this past week’s games, the Blue Raiders are also doing what they haven’t done all season: win close games (another thing I told them about in last week’s article). All three finals were within 10 points, and Middle Tennessee found a way to pull them out. It was especially ironic since two of the games were against the very team I said the Blue Raiders should try and imitate.

Consequently, it was a very good week for Middle Tennessee men’s basketball. As the team continues its conference schedule, it should remember this stretch and how it played well when it really counted. If the Blue Raiders can maintain this kind of play, maybe they do have a shot at the Sun Belt Conference title and a berth in the NCAA tournament.

Close Games Prove Costly
By Ethan Lannom

After a couple of articles of uncertainty, I now know what to think of the men’s basketball team at Middle Tennessee State University: the Blue Raiders struggle to win close games.

You might be saying to yourself, “That’s it? That’s your grand philosophy on college basketball success, winning close games?” And I answer a vehement yes.

In my opinion, if you are within 10 points of a team in the final score, you should have found a way to win that game. The other games in the schedule consist of teams you should beat or tough teams you should have a hard time with.

This season, Middle Tennessee has been within 10 points of its opponent nine times. In these contests, the Blue Raiders are just 3-6, including two losses this weekend to FIU and FAU. Evidence of this problem is exemplified by the fact that they have lost twice on last-second shots. Also, they have fallen four times when it has been a one-possession game in the final minute.

These are the kind of winnable opportunities that separate the good teams from the average ones. Take Western Kentucky for example. The Hilltoppers have an excellent chance to win the Sun Belt Conference. In the aforementioned type of game, they have an 8-2 record. That piece of information shows the difference between the two teams. A difference that will undoubtedly be evident Monday night when Western Kentucky visits Murfreesboro.

Meanwhile, the MT women’s team returned to their winning ways this weekend with two blowout victories over FIU and Florida Atlantic. The Blue Raiders could have let the early conference loss to UALR bother them, but they bounced back in great form.

Maybe the players read my article about balance or Coach Insell finally got to them. Either way a much more evenhanded effort was on display against the Owls Saturday afternoon. Middle Tennessee put up 92 points with the help of four starters scoring in double figures. If the Blue Raiders can maintain this kind of offensive output, they will be hard to stop come March.

The team’s record now stands at 11-5, with just the one blemish inside the Sun Belt Conference.

The only thing they need to worry about is perfecting their press before that time. They did give up 76 points to a team that was out of it most of the second half. Otherwise, the Middle Tennessee women should continue business as usual.

Mixed Results
By Ethan Lannom

When I last left you, I said that these two weeks would be foretelling for MT basketball in how the men’s and women’s teams would fare the rest of the season. It has been a very positive performance by the men’s squad.

The Blue Raiders went 3-2 over this two-week stretch, losing an understandable game at Vanderbilt and a heartbreaking one at Arkansas State, where they lost on a last-second shot. Overall, it looks promising for the men’s team.

The men will get a break with the next three games at home against FIU, FAU, and Western Kentucky. I am especially interested to see how the Blue Raiders can stand up to the Hilltoppers. Western Kentucky made a good run in last year’s NCAA tournament before getting ousted by Gonzaga on a game-wining layup with less than five seconds remaining. I think the men need to play well against this squad to have confidence that they can make a run in the Sun Belt Conference.

As for the women, the scores are actually peculiar. The Lady Raiders played well and have won four out of their last five games. However, the end of this stretch of play seemed a bit strange.

Middle Tennessee had a close win over Kentucky before demolishing New Orleans and Louisiana. Then, things got weird.

All-American Alysha Clark could not go in Wednesday night’s game at Arkansas State. This did not bode well for the Lady Raiders. The last two contests between the teams had been split in close encounters.

The Middle Tennessee women stepped up though without the help of their leading scorer and rebounder. Senior Brandi Brown was huge, hitting 6-of-7 from behind the three-point arc. Junior Emily Queen also played well, crashing the boards for 13 rebounds. The Lady Raiders hung tough and pulled out a close one 75-65.

This was a very encouraging sign for Middle Tennessee. If the team could perform this well without Clark, how could they do with her?

Well, the answer turned out to be surprisingly disappointing. In Little Rock, Arkansas against UALR, Clark gave the Lady Raiders another double-double with 24 points and 10 rebounds. However, it was not enough as Middle Tennessee fell 63-43.

It seems as if the women are struggling to find their offensive balance. Alysha Clark is going to give you her standard double-double a night. The key is to not just rely on her. The Lady Raiders are going to need the outside game to work with Clark’s inside game in order to be successful. Obviously, I was wrong last week when I said the women’s team was nothing without Clark.

I do think that she needs to be used in the proper way. Transitioning effectively between her and the three-point shooters will go a long way in determining how well the Lady Raiders can play this season.

What We Know So Far
By Ethan Lannom

It’s too early to tell exactly how well the MTSU men’s and women’s basketball teams will fare this season. Their erratic records so far may not indicate how they will play the rest of the year.

First, I’ll start with the men. They have been up-and-down so far this year with a 5-6 overall record. However, it’s tough to tell how they will do because the team recently got back Desmond Yates, their leading scorer from last year.

Although they lost to Tennessee by twenty, they definitely had chances to win that game. That shows how much talent they have if they could just make use of it. The Blue Raiders have finished up most of their non-conference schedule and face New Orleans on New Year’s Eve to begin Sun Belt Conference action.

The next week will tell a lot about Middle Tennessee as they face two conference opponents and play at Vanderbilt on January 4. Western Kentucky, the favorite in the Sun Belt, beat Vanderbilt in Nashville earlier this season. It will be interesting to see how the Blue Raiders can stack up against the Commodores. This will be a true test of the team’s ability to make a serious run in conference.

For MT women’s basketball, as Alysha Clark goes, so goes the Lady Raiders. I hate to make it so simplistic but it is mostly true. Although she is averaging a double-double this season and was the nation’s leading scorer last year, teams have found ways of shutting her down in the post.

For one thing, she stands at 5 feet 10 inches, short for a basketball player, much less a dominating forward. In the Sun Belt Conference, she has found ways of scoring with various post moves and kicking it out to open three-point shooters.

So far this season, this has not been the case. For example, Tennessee used its much taller women to completely shut down Clark in the first half. When she started picking up her game, the Lady Raiders were playing catch-up and could not knock down open threes. Middle Tennessee will need better long-range shooting in conference if they hope to make a run in the NCAA tournament.

The Lady Raiders are 5-4 with Kentucky as their remaining non-conference foe. Again, like the men, it is hard to tell how the team will do this season. Three of their four losses came against top ten opponents LSU, Tennessee, and Xavier. Middle Tennessee’s other loss was at South Dakota State, where they had one of their worst shooting performances this year.

Like the men, the next couple of weeks will be key in seeing how the team will fare the rest of the season. The Sun Belt is where the Lady Raiders usually shine, and hopefully for them this year proves no different.

Basically, each team is relying on its vaunted scorer to lead it to victory. We will see how that plan is working out soon enough.

Who Dat Say Gonna Beat Dem Raiders?
By Ethan Lannom

On Saturday night, that battle cry was the New Orleans Saints’ as they took on the Dallas Cowboys in the Louisiana Superdome. On the following night, that was the slogan of the Middle Tennessee football team as they took on Southern Miss in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl.

Everything was not smooth sailing for the Blue Raiders. The game started off poorly as Southern Miss grabbed an early 14-0 lead in the first quarter. All of the air had been sucked out of the MTSU side of the stadium. Things were looking a little bleak. Then, quarterback Dwight Dasher used the talent he has shown all year to lead the Blue Raiders back.

Early in the second quarter, Dasher led Middle Tennessee on a 70-yard drive in which he accounted for every yard. It ended with an 11-yard pass to Garrett Andrews, and MT was on the board. Two drives later, he found Shane Blissard in the end zone to knot up the score at 14 apiece.

The Golden Eagles kicked a field goal before halftime and led by 3 going into the second half. On Middle Tennessee’s opening drive of the third quarter, Dasher fumbled the ball inside the Southern Miss 25-yard line. I was thinking, “Oh no, here we go again.” However, the defense held strong and forced a punt.

Dasher once again led the offense to a touchdown, and Southern Miss kicked another field goal to make the score 21-20 in favor of the Blue Raiders. Then, apparent disaster struck. On the next Middle Tennessee possession, Dasher injured his ankle after running for a first down.

Back-up quarterback Brent Burnette came in and proceeded to throw a 22-yard pass to Wes Caldwell. Maybe hope was not lost. Burnette ended the drive with a 23-yard screen pass to Chris McClover for a touchdown.

However, Southern Miss came right back and scored on a DeAndre Brown TD reception. The Golden Eagles did not convert the two-point conversion, making the score 28-26.

Dwight Dasher showed how tough he was as he came back and led another touchdown drive for the Blue Raiders. He was knocked out of the game a second time but found a way to keep playing. Danny Carmichael intercepted a pass at the Blue Raider 18-yard line that sealed the deal. Dasher finished his night with TD run from a yard out, bringing the score to 42-26.

The Golden Eagles added a touchdown late, but Middle Tennessee achieved the inevitable victory 42-32 in probably the biggest game of the program’s history. The Blue Raiders finished the season at 10-3, winning their last seven games. That winning streak is the fourth-longest in the country.

Dwight Dasher wrapped up the night by taking home the MVP award. It was certainly well deserved as he threw for 162 yards and ran for 201. He also scored twice through the air and on the ground respectively. During the contest, he went over the 1,000-yard mark as well, making him the seventh player in NCAA history to throw for 2,000 yards and run for 1,000 yards.

As amazing as Dasher was, let’s not forget how Brent Burnette stepped up in a moment of crisis. Coming off the bench and leading his touchdown drive was a huge part of the game that propelled the Blue Raiders forward.

As unbelievable as this year was, I can’t wait to see what the 2010 season has in store for Middle Tennessee. Coming off arguably the team’s best season ever, expectations will undoubtedly be high. Dwight Dasher is only a sophomore, and it will be exciting to see what he and the rest of the Blue Raiders can accomplish the next couple of years.

Lack of Execution
By Ethan Lannom

On Friday night, the MTSU men’s basketball team took on the Volunteers of Tennessee. You would think they might have noticed how the women lost to the Lady Vols and shown up to the game. Well, at least one player did.

Senior Desmond Yates scored 26 against Tennessee, going 11-for-19 from the field. Junior James Washington also chipped in with 11 points to keep it close for the Blue Raiders.

However, the story of the game wasn’t how talented some of the UT players were compared to their Middle Tennessee counterparts. It was the absolute lack of fundamental basketball that took place at the Sommet Center.

Some people might look at the final score line of 75-54 and think that the Blue Raiders never had a chance to win the game. Well, they didn’t, but it wasn’t because of a dominating performance by the Volunteers. Instead, self-inflicted mistakes were to blame.

For the game, Middle Tennessee shot 11-for-20 from the free throw line. That’s right, the free throw line. You know, that place where nobody guards you, and you just get to stand there and shoot. A measly 55% was all the team could manage from the charity stripe. If you are playing a decent team, much less a team of Tennessee’s caliber, you have to execute the basics if you hope to come out on top.

Also, the Blue Raiders were terrible from behind the arc, converting just three out of 17 attempts for a 17.6 percentage. Again, not all of the misses were due to the defense of the Volunteers. Middle Tennessee failed to make open threes all night, and it cost them.

This is what sometimes frustrates me about watching MT athletics. It’s not as if the MTSU players have no talent and can’t stand up to teams from more accomplished conferences. It’s the way players fail to do the simple things that put their team in position to win games.

I understand that the team is trying to find its rhythm after Desmond Yates has had to come back from a preseason injury. However, that is no excuse for not doing basic things like hitting free throws.

The Blue Raiders followed up this loss with a win against SIU-Edwardsville and play Howard at home next. Hopefully, Middle Tennessee can take this easy opportunity and put their record at 5-6.

Then, it’s on to start play in the Sun Belt Conference at New Orleans on New Year’s Eve. If the Blue Raiders hope to have any chance of doing well in the Sun Belt, Coach Davis needs to get them back to the basics.

Recap of the 2009 Season
By Ethan Lannom

The Middle Tennessee football team wrapped up a fantastic season with a 38-19 win on the road against Louisiana-Monroe to put its record at 9-3. This capped off what was probably the best season the Blue Raiders have ever seen.

MT received two votes in the ESPN/USA Today Football Coaches Top 25 poll to put them in a tie for 38th nationally. The only other time the team garnered votes for the poll was the preseason of 2002 when it acquired one vote.

Since the MT women’s basketball team has not started off so hot, I have decided to bask in the glory of the football team and recount the great things the program has done this year.

Just to list some national statistics (as of December 1):

Dwight Dasher-3rd in rushing among QBs
Quarterback Sacks-3rd
Marcus Udell-4th in interceptions
Dwight Dasher-8th in TDs responsible for
Total Offense-30th
Alan Gendreau-21st in field goals
Tackles for Loss-1st
Danny Carmichael-3rd in forced fumbles
Turnover Margin-10th
Scoring Offense-28th
Chris McCoy-6th in tackles for loss
Dwight Dasher-10th in total offense
Alan Gendreau-28th in scoring

Also, some general information about the Blue Raiders (as of December 1 again):

Seventh-longest active win streak
One of only 25 teams nationally with 9+ wins
One of only 16 teams nationally with 7+ conference wins
One of just 10 non-automatic qualifying teams with 9+ wins

I know this is a lot of data being thrown around, but I believe it is necessary to exemplify just how great this year has been for the MTSU football team.

The Blue Raiders have now found out they will be traveling to the Louisiana Superdome to take on Southern Mississippi in the R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl on December 20. It will be on ESPN at 7:30 p.m. and will be the first ever meeting between the two schools.

This will be the second bowl game for Middle Tennessee in the Division 1-A era and the sixth bowl appearance in school history. In their first bowl game in the FBS era, MTSU lost to Central Michigan in the 2006 Motor City Bowl 31-14.

If the Blue Raiders can secure a victory in this year’s New Orleans Bowl, it will finish their finest stretch ever. If that were to happen, I will most likely need to discontinue writing about the MT football team because it will never get any better than that.

Middle Tennessee Continues Its Great Run
By Ethan Lannom

Locking up bowl eligibility two weeks ago, some people thought the MT football team might succumb to a lackluster performance the rest of the season. However, that has not been the case at all. Coach Rick Stockstill has kept the players focused by reminding them that bowl eligibility does not necessarily mean that they are bowl bound.

Coming into Saturday’s contest with Arkansas State, quarterback Dwight Dasher had been on a remarkable stretch of play. This theme continued against the Red Wolves. Dasher threw all over the Arkansas State defense for 263 yards and four touchdowns.

The MT defense also played well. Holding the Red Wolves to just 220 yards and 14 points, the Blue Raiders also forced two turnovers. Jamari Lattimore picked up a fumble and tossed it back to Jeremy Kellem who ran it in for a touchdown. Marcus Udell picked off his seventh pass of the season as well.

In Middle Tennessee’s final home game, the team never let up and walked away with the 38-14 victory.

Starting the season inconsistently at 3-3, I was a little worried about the Blue Raider football team. However, now the team has reeled off five straight wins to put its record at 8-3 for the year. The eight overall wins and five home wins are the most Middle Tennessee has had since the 2001 season. In that campaign, MTSU was the co-champion of the Sun Belt Conference.

Also, let’s take a look at their three losses. Their very first game was a thrashing at Clemson. We all know how good that team has turned out to be. Then, the squad lost on the road at Troy. This week the Trojans guaranteed themselves the Sun Belt Conference for the fourth consecutive year. The Blue Raiders’ only other defeat came at the hands of the Bulldogs of Mississippi State. The only way I can defend Middle Tennessee here is that it was the first time the team had ever faced a SEC opponent at home. Also, Dwight Dasher missed the first quarter and three players were suspended before the game for underage drinking. Well, maybe MTSU does have an excuse.

All I know is that so far, this year has been one of the best in school history. If the Blue Raiders can finish the season with a win this week at Louisiana-Monroe and a bowl victory, it will be an amazing feat. Overall, I don’t see how it could get much better.

Blue Raiders Are Bowl Eligible
By Ethan Lannom

With last week’s last second win at Florida Atlantic, MTSU put itself in great position, needing only one win to become bowl eligible with four games left including the next three at home. Fortunately, Middle Tennessee did not waste time in getting the clinching victory against Florida International.

The MT offense got started early, which has not been a theme throughout the season. With 11:35 remaining in the first quarter, quarterback Dwight Dasher ran in it from 70 yards for the game’s first score. It was reminiscent of last week’s scamper when he took it 74 yards late in the fourth quarter for the game-winning touchdown.

The remainder of the first half went according to plan for the Blue Raiders, with all three phases of the game making big plays. The offense continued the great success of the opening drive, putting up 34 points in the first half. The MT defense was stout, allowing only a Kendall Berry TD run with 24 seconds left in the first half. Special teams were excellent as well, as Jeremy Kellem and Dwight Smith blocked a punt and field goal attempt respectively. Also, kick returner Patrick Honeycutt returned a punt 47 yards to set up an easy Blue Raider score.

Going into the second half, the game looked almost out of reach for the FIU Golden Panthers. However, Middle Tennessee felt the need to make it interesting, as it seems to always do. O’Darris D’Haiti picked off Dwight Dasher on the opening drive of the third quarter. Two plays later, Berry rushed in for a 5-yard touchdown, cutting the deficit to 34-14.

On the next drive, another Dasher pass was intercepted, this time by Jeremiah Weatherspoon at the FIU 15 yard-line. However, the MT defense held strong, forcing the Golden Panthers to punt. On FIU’s next drive, Berry again carried the load for the Golden Panther offense. With less than four minutes left in the third quarter, he found the endzone from four yards out, making the score 34-21.

The MT quarterback’s troubles continued with Dasher throwing his third interception of the quarter to Jonathan Cyprien. Again, the Blue Raider defense shut down the Golden Panthers. Dasher finally got his act together in the second half, taking the MT offense down the field and scoring from a yard out to extend the lead to 41-21.

The final score of the game came on a 42-yard TD run by Benjamin Cunningham with less than two minutes remaining in the contest. It was Cunningham’s first career touchdown and brought the final tally to 48-21.

This win puts Middle Tennessee at 6-3, which is the team’s best start since the Blue Raiders competed in the Motor City Bowl in 2006. The MT running game finished with 385 yards on the ground, the fourth-highest total in school history. I know at times I have been tough on Dwight Dasher, but I believe rightfully so. However, throughout the season and especially the last three weeks, he has lived up to his potential and shown what kind of team Middle Tennessee can have. Dasher is the first player in MTSU history to throw for more than 2,000 yards and rush for more than 500 yards in a single season.

This type of game has me excited about Blue Raider football. Before this season, Middle Tennessee might have let FIU back into the game and eventually let it slip away. It seems now the team is stronger both talent-wise and mentally. With three winnable games left and bowl eligibility intact, things are only looking up for MT football.

Bitten by the Bulldogs
By Ethan Lannom

It was all there for the taking last weekend against Mississippi State. This was the first time ever that Floyd Stadium had hosted an SEC opponent. The game was being shown on ESPNU, making MT football history with consecutive national broadcasts. Unfortunately, a lot of things went wrong for the Blue Raiders before the game even got started.

Leading up to the game, wide receiver Patrick Honeycutt, linebacker Gorby Loreus, and quarterback Nick Coleman were suspended due to being arrested in connection with underage drinking. Starting quarterback Dwight Dasher and center Mark Thompson did not start Saturday’s game because they missed a conditioning workout. While I commend head coach Rick Stockstill’s decision to discipline these players, it definitely hurt not having them out there.

Also, Middle Tennessee was expecting a huge crowd for this first game at home against an SEC foe. However, the weather forecast turned to forty degree temperatures with heavy wind and drizzling rain. This certainly impacted the attendance, and as a result, less support for the team when it needed all it could get. Oh yeah, now we can finally get to the game.

With backup quarterback Brent Burnette making his first collegiate start, you knew the offense was going to struggle. The MT defense was not up to its usual standards either. Midway through the first quarter, MSU quarterback Tyson Lee hurried up to the line and caught the Blue Raider defense off guard. The result was a 39-yard QB keeper up the middle for the game’s first touchdown. Big plays through the middle of the MT defense would be a theme throughout the contest.

At the start of the second period, Dwight Dasher finally got into the game. He led the offense down the field and the Blue Raiders were in business with a first and goal at the MSU 1-yard line. From there, Middle Tennessee inconceivably ran Dasher up the middle three straight times for no yards. MT had to settle for an Alan Gendreau 18-yard field goal to close the margin to 10-3. It should be noted that all three runs were out of the shotgun, which seems to be their only formation. Maybe he could sneak it from under center…

This has always annoyed me concerning QB sneaks. If you’re going to attempt it, go ahead and put the quarterback under center. It gives him the shortest distance to achieve forward progress. Instead, teams will put their quarterback at shotgun, and expect him to be able to run an extra six yards for the sneak. It just seems like common sense to me. If you need a short gain, don’t put your ball carrier miles behind the line of scrimmage. Anyway, back to the game.

On the next Mississippi State possession, Anthony Dixon went up the gut for a 57-yard TD run. This put the score at 17-3. With the first half coming to a close, the MT offense drove down the field again but just picked up another three points, putting the halftime score at 17-6.

In the second half, Dasher seemed like he wanted to make up for missing the first quarter. Instead, he ended up forcing a lot of balls into double and triple coverage. This resulted in three interceptions to pretty much put the game away. Mississippi State also picked off a Sancho McDonald attempt in the fourth quarter on a reserve pass. Dixon ran in another touchdown from a yard out with a little over three minutes left in the game. The final was 27-6.

All is not lost though. The team’s record is at 3-3 with a very winnable game next week against Western Kentucky. Going off the assumption they don’t blow that opportunity, MT will only need two more wins to become bowl eligible. The program has been so close the last couple of seasons. Perhaps this year will finally be the time.

The Fall At Troy
By Etan Lannom

Coming into Tuesday night’s game against Troy on ESPN2, MTSU football could not have been flying any higher. The team was coming off beating Memphis, Maryland, and their opening conference opponent North Texas. Dwight Dasher came in ranked sixth nationally in total offense, and Tony Franklin looked like a genius after the debacle in Auburn last year.

The Troy Trojans, however, had other ideas. Under current head coach Rick Stockstill, the Blue Raiders were 0-3 in the three previous games against Troy. The last two of these were especially painful because MT really had a chance to win them. Troy is the three-time defending champion of the Sun Belt, and they showed why on primetime national television.

It’s strange because Middle Tennessee is able to get up for the big games, i.e. Memphis this year and Maryland two years in a row; however, when there is a key matchup in their own conference, they seem to struggle to rise to the occasion. It was no different against the Trojans.

The first quarter was just horrible for the MT offense, as they managed to gather 26 yards in 18 plays and punted several times. The defense held the fort down as long as they could, but eventually Shawn Southward took it in on an 8-yard TD run in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Blue Raiders moved the ball a bit better but not much more success followed. The Trojans again found the end zone with a 52-yard strike from Levi Brown to Chip Reeves with twenty seconds to play in the first half.

Even with the few seconds remaining, the MT offense drove the ball down the field and had a timeout with enough time to throw one pass and kick a field goal. However, Dasher threw the ball to Patrick Honeycutt, who inexplicably tossed the ball back to Desmond Gee who ran out the rest of the time on the clock inside the Trojan 20 yard-line. Honeycutt could have just went down, called timeout, and got some points before going into halftime. Somehow, this failed to occur.

The second half opened with the Troy offense marching down the field; the drive was capped off with a Dantavious Parker two-yard TD run to pull them ahead 21-0. After another MT punt, the Trojans drove down and kicked a field goal midway through the third quarter.

The Blue Raiders finally started clicking on their next offense possession. Middle Tennessee went 86 yards on 13 plays. However, the offense fell short again with Dasher being stopped on a fourth-down effort at the two-yard line.

At the end of the third period, the team finally got on the board with a 35-yard TD pass from Dasher to Tavarres Jefferson. At the start of the fourth though, Troy answered with a 28-yard TD scamper by Parker, completing the scoring in the game at 31-7.

I know that Dwight Dasher is a tremendous talent, and we should use him accordingly. When your star player is first in the entire nation in touches per game though, maybe Coach Stockstill should mix it up some more and promote balance. Just a suggestion coach, just a suggestion.

MT Football Does It Again
By Ethan Lannom

After the Blue Raiders’ opening loss to Clemson, I did not have high hopes for the rest of the season. Not because they lost, that was bound to happen. But it was the way they lost. The offense struggling to not go backwards, and special teams giving up play after play.

MT proved me wrong, I’m glad to say, with a great win over Memphis at home. The whole atmosphere of the game was terrific. You could feel the team’s confidence growing as the contest went along.

Not only did the team play fantastic, the MTSU fans showed up as well. It was the blackout game, and they cheered loud and hard for their Blue Raiders. Not just that, Floyd Stadium set a new record with 28,105 people in attendance. Overall, it was an outstanding night for MT football.

This set up the trip to College Park to take on the Maryland Terrapins. Maryland was all too familiar with MTSU, losing to them last year at Floyd Stadium in an upset of epic proportions. Now, they wouldn’t be caught by surprise. And they had Middle Tennessee at home.

The Blue Raiders knew it would be a tough test, but they were up to the challenge. The whole game was a back-and-forth affair. Maryland could have iced the game with a 42-yard field goal attempt. However, MT special teams stood strong, caused the miss, and gave its offense a chance to win the game.

Quarterback Dwight Dasher led Middle Tennessee 65 yards down the field with 1:30 on the clock to the Terrapin 10-yard line. From there, Alan Gendreau did the rest, securing the win with a 19-yard field goal as time expired. The crowd of 43,167 was silenced.

This win gave the MTSU football team its first road victory over a BCS-conference opponent since 2005 when it defeated Vanderbilt, but it was more than just that. Sure, consecutive wins over Maryland, an ACC school, were great.

But just a few years ago, MT football almost dropped out of Division I football because of attendance problems. Avoiding that disaster, the Blue Raiders have found their way back to winning football. Head coach Rick Stockstill and the rest of the football program have much to be proud of. They have led MTSU from the edge of losing status to beating schools of top tier conferences. I have never been so excited to be an MTSU fan.

The Clemson Crushing
By Ethan Lannom

As the MT Blue Raiders opened their season against the Clemson Tigers, I’ll admit I didn’t have high expectations. Middle Tennessee is coming off a 5-7 campaign last year, and Clemson has a couple of the most explosive players in college football with C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford. However, that does not explain why the Blue Raiders played the way they did.

During this year’s preseason, Dwight Dasher took over the quarterback position, and Tony Franklin came in as the new offensive coordinator. Coach Franklin was looking to have a fast-paced offense this season to catch defenses off guard. This was not the case against Clemson.

It all started off badly with C.J. Spiller taking the opening kickoff 96 yards for a touchdown. I realize that Spiller is a hard guy to catch. But a TD off the opening kickoff? Seriously? I knew we were in for a long night.

Dasher started off the game well enough completing his first two passes. Then, his third attempt was intercepted, and the offense went to smithereens. The Blue Raiders’ offense did not just stall; it actually went backwards on the majority of their drives in the first half. Another interception and several punts later, the first half was over with Middle Tennessee trailing 30-7.

MT’s defense did not play as poorly as the score line suggests. The opening kickoff return, a Jacoby Ford punt return TD, and another 50-yard punt return which resulted in a field goal is all put on the special teams. Consequently, the defense only truly allowed 13 points. It also scored the only MT points in the first half with a fumble return TD by Chris McCoy. I’d say that’s pretty good from a defense in a supposedly much “weaker” conference.

The second half started off well with the MT offense driving down the field and scoring its first touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Dasher to Chris McClover. It was McClover’s first career touchdown. On the ensuing Clemson drive, Marcus Udell of the Blue Raiders got his first career interception, and the Blue Raiders were in business. Down 30-14 and driving with the ball, you could feel the momentum start to shift to the small pack of blue shirts in the sea of orange.

The next part is what it makes it hard to be a MTSU fan. Your team can have you sky high and then snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The story was no different in Clemson, SC. Dasher proceeded to throw his third pick of the game which resulted in the final touchdown of the game for Clemson. This capped off an ugly 37-14 loss.

There is a saying that, “Defense wins championships.” Well, that might be true but if the Middle Tennessee special teams and offense don’t step up soon, it won’t matter how stellar the defense is.