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September 1, 2008

Dime package-10 thoughts entering week two

The Blue Raiders have had a full weekend to recover from a disappointing season opening loss and now turn their attention to ACC foe Maryland in week two. Here are 10 things we learned after week one in a feature we call The Dime Package.

WIDE RECEIVERS-Though there were some miscues in the passing attack against Troy, Middle Tennessee's wide receivers showed glimpses of being a very special unit. Freshmen Sancho McDonald and Malcolm Beyah are going to continue growing in the offense and both should make plenty of big plays this year. Patrick Honeycutt didn't have a catch against Troy, but that probably won't happen again the rest of the season, and good depth is present at the top with Michael Cannon (five catches against Troy), Wes Caldwell (four catches), and Eldred King (two catches). In a year where depth is desperately thin at several key positions, the Blue Raiders have several capable playmakers at wideout.

ATTENDANCE-How many will turn out for the Maryland game? The answer is anyone's guess, but the Troy game crowd proved that there is a significant Blue Raider fan base that is dying to support a big winner. Regardless of what the turnout is this Saturday, support for Blue Raider football is on the verge of reaching soaring new heights.

KICKING GAME-Middle Tennessee can pull an upset against Maryland if it gets a strong performance from the kicking game. David DeFatta averaged more than 40 yards per punt against Troy and the Blue Raider coverage units were strong. Freshman kicker Alan Gendreau connected on his only field goal to build upon his solid fall camp. Consistency from the kicking game will determine if MT can be competitive in games such as the upcoming Maryland contest. It can neutralize other disadvantages the Blue Raiders may have on paper. Maryland punter Travis Baltz is a big weapon for the Terps. He can flip field position easily and averaged 43 yards per punt against Delaware.

ANY ACC OPPONENT LOOKS BEATABLE-No conference had a more nightmarish opening week than the ACC. Clemson, Virginia Tech, N.C. State, and Virginia all looked somewhere between very bad and pathetic. Wake Forest and Boston College were the only league teams to beat Division 1-A opponents and Maryland and North Carolina struggled to get past Division 1-AA foes. There may have never been a better opportunity for the Blue Raiders to score an upset over a major Power Six program than the one that will be presented to them this weekend.

GET PLAYMAKERS IN SPACE-Middle Tennessee struggled to run the ball against Troy's defensive front, a predictable outcome since the Blue Raiders fielded a very young offensive line against one of the top defensive fronts in the Sun Belt. But in the midst of the 84 yard rushing effort against the Trojans, there were bright spots. Phillip Tanner and Desmond Gee each showed their high level playmaking ability when they were able to get in space and Gee in particular nearly broke a couple of huge gainers. The challenge for MT's offense is to get its running backs the ball in space. If the Blue Raiders can succeed in that quest, there will be an added element of explosion for the offense.

RUN DEFENSE-Middle Tennessee's rush defense was a hot topic in preseason camp as an area that needed improvement. The opening performance of the year left a lot to be desired. DuJuan Harris averaged nearly eight yards per carry and the Trojans as a team averaged close to five yards per pop. Maryland will bring a big time ground threat to Murfreesboro as well. Da'Rel Scott ran for 197 yards in the Terps' win over Delaware and the team tallied close to 300 yards on the ground. The Blue Raiders have to tackle better to keep Maryland from controlling the game with its rushing attack.

PASS PROTECTION-Middle Tennessee yielded five sacks to Troy, another product of having such a youthful offensive line being immediately thrown into the fire. The sack total was especially high considering the Blue Raiders used a lot of short quick pass routes to cut down on Troy's pass rush. Maryland didn't record a single sack in 23 pass attempts by Delaware Saturday. The Blue Raiders can open their downfield playbook more if the offensive staff is more confident in the line's ability to preserve the pocket.

ATTACK FROM OUTSIDE THE RED ZONE-Middle Tennessee's red zone ineffectiveness was one of the biggest storylines of the Troy game. While the Blue Raiders can certainly do better near the goal line than they did against the Trojans, the offense may also need to consider attacking the end zone more from outside the red zone. The offensive line is not built right now to be able to shove defensive fronts back to churn out red zone yardage. With the defense packed in tight near the goal line, it is doubly hard for the Blue Raiders to find running room as well as protect the passer. Taking more shots at the end zone from the 20-30 yard range could help the offense use the extra space available to it and avoid red zone difficulties.

RAIDERS NEED TO MAINTAIN CONFIDENCE-Even with some of the issues the Blue Raiders struggled with in week one, Middle Tennessee was just a couple of bad breaks away from winning. If Chris McCoy and/or Anthony Glover had held on to potential interceptions, if Dwight Dasher hadn't fumbled on fourth-and-goal in the second quarter, or if Joe Craddock hadn't thrown a poor interception early in the game, the game could have been totally different. The Blue Raiders are not far from being a quality team. They can't afford to let their confidence be shaken after the week one loss. Otherwise, the bad breaks from the first game could compound themselves and become a snowball effect.

PICKING THE POISON-In addition to Scott's ability at running back, Maryland has one of the most explosive wide receivers in the country in Darrius Heyward-Bey. Heyward-Bey is lightning fast and can run past just about any defensive back in college football. He had 70 yards receiving on just four catches against Delaware and also carried the ball twice for 20 yards. Can the Blue Raiders devote enough attention to Scott to contain the running game while still being able to blanket Heyward-Bey's downfield threat? The Blue Raiders have to be able to contain the run with their front seven because it's not fair to ask MT cornerbacks Alex Suber and Rod Issac to handle Heyward-Bey without plenty of safety help behind them.



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