Aug. 13, 2012
By Jon Cooper
Middle Tennessee State University
2011 Finish: 2-10 (1-7, eighth in Sun Belt Conference)
Final Ranking: not ranked in top 25
2012 Prediction: Seventh in the Sun Belt
Aug. 30: McNeese State
Sept. 8: Florida Atlantic
Sept. 15: @Memphis
Sept. 29: @Georgia Tech
Oct. 6: Louisiana-Monroe
Oct. 13: @FIU
Oct. 20: @Mississippi State
Oct. 27: North Texas
Nov. 1: @Western Kentucky
Nov.17: @South Alabama
Nov. 24: Troy
Dec. 1: @Arkansas State
Who’s Back: The Blue Raiders will have several key specialty players back, including quarterback Logan Kilgore, senior running back Benny Cunningham, and wide receivers Tavarres Jefferson, the team’s leading pass-catcher (51) and up-and comer Anthony Amos. Up front they’ll feature left guard Micah James, (6-3, 312), mammoth right guard Josh Walker (6-5, 319), and versatile Jaderius Hamlin, and Isaiah Anderson, both of whom saw time at right tackle. On defense, the Blue Raiders return most of their entire front seven. Back are the top five D-linemen, Omar McLendon (54 tackles, 4.5 for loss, 2.5 sacks), Kendall Dangerfield (30 tackles, eight for loss with a sack), Jimmy Staten (4.0 TFLs, 1.0 sacks), Shubert Bastien (4.5 TFLs), and Jiajuan Fennell (19 tackles, five for loss, while linebackers Leighton Gasque, who led the team with seven sacks and also had seven TFLs, SAMs Roderic Blunt (54 tackles, 30 solo) and Craig Allen (53, 38, 2.5 TFLs, a sack) and Mikes Corey Carmichael and Christian Henry return.
Who’s Gone: MTSU will be replacing leading rusher William Pratcher, although Cunningham had more scores (4-2) and ran for only 84 fewer yards. The defense took a bigger hit, losing its two top tacklers in strong safety Eric Russell and Will Linebacker Darin Davis. The defensive backfield and special teams got hit especially hard, as the entire secondary must be replaced. Within that group is Russell, who doubled as the Blue Raiders’ leading kick- and punt-returner. Tyler Mason, the team’s other main returner also is gone. The kicking game will have a new look, as kicker Alan Gendreau, the all-time leading scorer in Sun Belt Conference history, and punter Nate Toulson have graduated.
The Last Time We Met: Georgia Tech hit on a pair of big plays as part of a 21-point first quarter and never looked back, beating Middle Tennessee, 49-21, last Sept. 10 at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro. It took the Jackets just 14 seconds to score, as on their first offensive play, B-Back Tony Zenon took a screen pass from quarterback Tevin Washington 73 yards to pay dirt. Later in the quarter, Washington took it in from two yards away to double the lead, then late in the first quarter, hooked up with Steven Hill on a 71-yard scoring play to open a 21-0 lead after 15 minutes. Washington added a seven-yard run to make it 28-0 as Tech led 28-7 at the half. In the second half, Orwin Smith ran two yards for a score then back-up QB Synjyn Days added a pair of short TD runs to round out Tech’s scoring. David Sims ran for a game-high 91 yards, while Washington threw for 202 yards, 126 of them to Hill, another 85 to Zenon.
All-Time Series: 2-0 (1-0 at Bobby Dodd Stadium)
Five Things You Need To Know about Middle Tennessee State University:
Rick Stockstill has done a tremendous job in turning around the Blue Raiders program. In the six season under Stockstill MTSU has gone 35-40, 26-19 in the Sun Belt Conference. Both the 35 wins, third most in school history, and 26 conference wins rank as second-most in the SBC (tied with Arkansas State), behind only Troy, which has 44 wins, 34 in conference. In addition, the Blue Raiders have a 5-1 record in games decided by one point. That includes a 32-31 win at Maryland on Sept. 19, 2009. Their only loss came in 2006, a 21-20 loss to Troy.
The 2011 Blue Raiders were one of the most successful passing teams in school history, throwing for 3,052 yards. It marked only the second time that an MTSU team passed for more than 3,000 yards. The ’11 team fell only 12 yards short of tying the school record, set in 2009, of course the ’09 team had the benefit of a 13th game. Last year’s squad played 12.
Redshirt Junior quarterback Logan Kilgore likely will have become the 15th quarterback in MTSU history to reach 3,000 career yards passing by the time MTSU gets to Atlanta. Kilgore needs 229 yards to reach the mark. Last season he became the second Blue Raiders QB to throw for 2,000 yards in a season. His 18 touchdowns in a season rank third in school history. Accuracy is a big reason for his success. Kilgore completed 58.6 percent of his throws (214-of-365) and in 2011 set a school-record by completing 19 consecutive attempts against Florida International (the old mark had been 15, set in 2001).
Middle Tennessee’s offensive line does a great job in protecting their quarterback, as their .67 sacks allowed per game (eight in 12 games) were the second-fewest in the nation. The Blue Raiders also have averaged 170.1 rushing yards per game over their last 38 games.
Under Stockstill, MTSU has shown a propensity for going long distances in a short time. Since 2007, the Blue Raiders have 11 scoring drives of 90 yards or more, with four of them — a 94-yarder vs. Memphis, a pair of 95-yard drives vs. Purdue and Troy, and a 96-yard drive vs. FAU coming last season. In the process of conducting these long-distance drives, the offense ran 938 plays, second, all-time in school history behind the 2009 team, which ran 955. They’ve also shown a knack for being economical time-wise, as their longest drive in 2011 took 4:16.