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August 28, 2008

MT/Troy: Over, under, or push

Will the Blue Raiders be able to get to Troy quarterback Jamie Hampton? Will Troy hit on big passing plays against the MT defense? Will Blue Raider quarterbacks be accurate through the air?

GoMiddle.com tackles these and other key questions facing both teams with an OVER, UNDER or PUSH response.

MT will have two receptions of 30 or more yards

PUSH. Long passing plays down the field typically require time to develop, time that MT may not have with a young offensive line facing a fierce pass rush. However, the Blue Raiders have some big play threats that can turn a short pass into a big gain and I think those weapons will hit on a couple of big ones.

Troy will have two receptions of 30 or more yards

UNDER. Rick Stockstill is determined to make Troy work for its points and has designed a game plan with the goal of making the Trojans put together long drives. With Troy breaking in a new quarterback, the Trojans may keep things a little closer to the vest offensively. If MT's secondary makes solid tackles, the defense can avoid giving up too many big plays.

Troy will rush for 175 yards

PUSH. Troy demolished the Blue Raiders on the ground last year, but MT has made it a point in fall camp to shore up its run defense. If Troy goes for more than 175 on the ground, it will be very difficult for the Blue Raiders to win. The Trojans have no proven running back, but DuJuan Harris is dangerous and plenty capable of causing problems for defenses. Even though Troy likes to throw the ball, the offense is predicated on being able to run it with effectiveness. It averaged 4.7 yards per carry in 2007.

MT will rush for 175 yards

UNDER. The Blue Raiders have big play threats in the backfield with Desmond Gee and Phillip Tanner, but Troy's defensive front is always one of the best in the Sun Belt and Middle Tennessee has not averaged even four yards per carry in any season since 2002.

MT will complete 60 percent of its passes

UNDER. Both Joe Craddock and Dwight Dasher are expected to play plenty of snaps, but the exact order or quantity won't be known until the game plays out on Horace Jones Field. With an unproven offensive line in front of them and a cast of several new receivers around them, it's unrealistic to expect the passing game to be clicking on all cylinders right away, especially against an upper tier Sun Belt defense.

Troy will complete 60 percent of its passes

PUSH. Jamie Hampton is an unknown commodity at quarterback but the Troy offense features a lot of short passes that should help the new starter develop some kind of rhythm in the passing game. The biggest key for the MT secondary will probably be tackling after catches.

The winning team will score 24 points

PUSH. I don't expect the points to pile up in this game but do think there will be a big play for both offenses and a game changing defensive play that will ultimately determine the outcome. With both offenses facing a lot of question marks, it may take a few series for both teams to get in an offensive groove.

Desmond Gee will have 20 touches

OVER. Gee moved back to the running back spot because of the team's depth needs at the position, but the switch will also allow him to get more consistent touches. He may not get 20 carries in the game, but he'll catch a pass or two and return a couple of kicks to get over the 20 touch number.

MT will force two Troy turnovers

OVER. For as good as Troy has been since entering the Sun Belt in 2004, the Trojans have not been very good at protecting the football. They have posted negative turnover margins in each of the last three seasons and the MT defense is determined to rack up more takeaways this year. The Blue Raiders have capable playmakers in the secondary and enough of a pass rush to potentially cause some poor decisions from Hampton. With what should be an active crowd, I think that adds up to a trio of Troy turnovers.

Troy will force two MT turnovers

PUSH. The Blue Raiders have been very good in the turnover category under Rick Stockstill, but against a fast and aggressive defense it's hard to expect the Blue Raiders to play 60 minutes without a couple of miscues. Stockstill has been frustrated at times in preseason camp with ball security, but expect most of the plays to get the ball to surehanded Blue Raiders to make sure turnovers don't doom the offense.

Troy will sack MT's QB twice

OVER. Both Craddock and Dasher have good athletic ability and mobility, but Troy should have a great chance to tally a few sacks against MT's green offensive line. The key for the Blue Raiders will be to make sure they don't give up sacks on pivotal mid-yardage third downs, which is when the offense needs to be able to sustain drives to keep the defense on the sideline.

MT will sack Troy's QB twice

PUSH. Troy brings back a veteran offensive line but the Blue Raiders will have more pass rush ability up front than some outsiders expect after losing All-Sun Belt defensive ends Erik Walden and Tavares Jones. Wes Hofacker and Chris McCoy have enjoyed solid fall camps on the edge, while the depth behind them also includes legitimate playmaking threats. Defensive coordinator Manny Diaz is also not afraid to dial up an aggressive blitz in certain situations. Expect the Blue Raiders to get to Hampton a couple of times, despite Troy's preferred quick strike passing game.


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