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October 28, 2009

Six pack: The stretch run begins

Middle Tennessee righted its offense last week in a blowout win over WKU and it will likely take another high scoring day from the offense to get a win over Florida Atlantic this weekend.

GoMiddle.com breaks down six game related items in this week's Six Pack feature.

SCHEDULE ANALYSIS: This Saturday will be a separation day in the Sun Belt standings, as key games take place at all levels of the conference standings. Troy and ULM will break the deadlock at the top; Middle Tennessee and Florida Atlantic will decide who belongs in the upper echelon of the league; Western Kentucky and North Texas will settle which team is the worst in the league. How do the schedules break down the rest of the season for the contending teams? Of the five teams that currently have no more than one conference loss, the easiest schedule the rest of the way probably belongs to FAU. The Owls have three home games in their last five and the league winning percentage of their remaining opponents is just .471. ULM's remaining league opponents have the same winning percentage, but three of the Warhawks' remaining league games are on the road. The toughest remaining schedule of the currently contending teams easily belongs to Louisiana-Lafayette. The Cajuns' remaining opponents have a league winning percentage of .647. MT's remaining opponents have a .563 winning percentage in league games.

MT'S RUN GAME HAS GOOD OPPORTUNITY: The Blue Raiders received a ground game jumpstart last week against WKU. Not counting quarterback Dwight Dasher's 66 rushing yards, MT tallied 163 rushing yards from other players. That led to a very balanced offense as the Raiders demolished the Hilltoppers. The ground game should have a good chance to be successful again this week against FAU's struggling run defense. Every FAU opponent so far this season has run for at least 150 yards. Conference opponents have averaged 197 rushing yards per game against the Owls.

CAN THE MT PASS RUSH GET TO RUSTY?: There may not be a more crucial question that will determine the outcome of the game. FAU quarterback Rusty Smith is arguably the best pure passer in the league and the Owls have done a good job of protecting him. FAU has not allowed a sack in its last two games, both of them victories and ranks third overall in the conference in fewest sacks allowed. The Owl offensive line will be tested against MT's swarming defense, which is tied for the league lead in sacks and has three players with at least three sacks through seven games.

WILL THERE BE ANOTHER WILD FINISH?: The brief history between MT and FAU is already filled with memorable moments for both teams. There have been two last play near miracle pass completions for victories. FAU victimized MT on such a play to shock the Blue Raiders 20-19 in 2003. MT returned the favor last year with Joe Craddock's heave to Malcolm Beyah to stun the Owls 14-13. There have been other memorable moments as well. FAU fondly remembers the 2004 game, in which the Owls overcame a 17-6 deficit by scoring 21 unanswered points in the third quarter on their way to an eventual 27-20 win. MT's 35-14 win in 2006 was memorable for several reasons. The win made the Raiders 5-0 in league play for the first time ever and it came largely on the strength of two non-offensive touchdowns. Damon Nickson returned a kickoff 94 yards for a score and Justin Rainey returned a fumble 50 yards for another score. This week's game is likely to include offensive highlights for both sides, which sets the stage for another potentially exciting finish.

PASSING GAME MOVES THE CHAINS: FAU has a great running back in Alfred Morris, but the Owls still are similar to MT in that they get a large percentage of their first downs through the passing game. More than 60 percent of MT's first downs this season have come via pass, the highest percentage of any team in the Sun Belt. FAU ranks third in that category, with nearly 55 percent of its first downs coming via pass. MT's running game has only accounted for 34 percent of the team's first downs. FAU's ground attack has generated nearly 39 percent of the Owls' first downs. Only two Sun Belt teams have gained a majority of its first downs with the running game. Arkansas State's run game accounts for 55 percent of the Red Wolves' first downs. WKU's run game accounts for 53 percent of the Hilltoppers' first downs.

ANOTHER IN A LONG LINE: When MT faces off against FAU running back Alfred Morris on Saturday, it will just be another in a long list of great running backs the Blue Raiders have faced this year. Clemson's C.J. Spiller, Memphis's Curtis Steele, Maryland's Da'Rel Scott, North Texas's Lance Dunbar, Troy's DuJuan Harris, Mississippi State's Anthony Dixon, and Western Kentucky's Bobby Rainey have all tested the Blue Raider defensive front. The combined stats of the list of feature backs MT has faced are quite impressive. The seven running backs listed above have combined to run for 3,746 yards and 39 touchdowns this season. Against MT, those running backs have tallied 478 yards on 77 carries, an average of 6.2 yards per carry. Spiller and Steele were each hurt in the first half against MT and had limited carries.


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