2011 Middle Tennessee Preview – Offense
Middle Tennessee QB Logan Kilgore
CollegeFootballNews.com 2011 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Offense
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Preview 2011 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: New coordinator Willie Simmons has some excellent players to work with from an attack that was good last year, but not great. The offense became way too reliant on Dwight Dasher over the last few seasons, and he struggled too often with big mistakes at the wrong times. However, he was a playmaker who occasionally came up with the sensational throw or run to turn games around. He's gone, and while the quarterback combination of Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy won't be as dynamic, it should be far more efficient. Top back Phillip Tanner is gone, but Benjamin Cunningham and D.D. Kyles will produce behind one of the Sun Belt's best lines. The Blue Raiders get four starters back up front, but as good as the line will be, the receiving corps could be the O's strength with Malcolm Beyah and Sancho McDonald two dangerous deep threats.
Star of the offense: Junior RB Benjamin Cunningham
Passing: Logan Kilgore
50-85, 540 yds, 3 TD, 5 INT
Rushing: D.D. Kyles
77 carries, 414 yds, 4 TD
Receiving: Malcolm Beyah
29 catches, 388 yds, 2 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Sophomore QB Logan Kilgore and/or Junior QB Jeff Murphy
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OG Preston Bailey
Best pro prospect: Cunningham
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Bailey, 2) OT Mike Williams, 3) Cunningham
Strength of the offense: Line, Receiver
Weakness of the offense: Quarterback, Turnovers
State of the Unit: The Blue Raider passing game went through a weird season, sitting in a holding pattern until the franchise, Dwight Dasher, could return from NCAA issues. When he finally came back, he didn't see an interception he didn't like to throw, giving away 18 picks and just six touchdowns in nine games. The passing game finished seventh in the Sun Belt and was 106th in the nation in efficiency, but more than anything else, the offense will miss Dasher's running ability.
Before Dasher got back into the fold, sophomore Logan Kilgore started out the year playing three of the first four games completing 63% of his passes on the year for 540 yards and three touchdowns, but he threw five picks including three against Memphis and one in his other two games. The 6-3, 178-pounder isn't going to run too much, but he can push the ball down the field with a nice arm and good upside. He started out his career at Bakersfield College and is accurate, and now he has to be a leader and has to keep the offense moving by limiting mistakes.
Also deep in the hunt for the starting job is junior Jeff Murphy, a 6-0, 195-pounder who runs far better than Kilgore and has a nice arm. Coming in from Laney Junior College, he saw on start against Austin Peay completing 23-of 36 passes for 301 yards with a pick, and he ran for 59 yards and a score in the win. He's not all that big, but he's mobile and he has a nice enough arm to get vertical.
Watch Out For … an ongoing battle for the starting job. Kilgore will probably end up being the main man, but Murphy will see time throughout the season if he doesn't end up taking the No. 1 gig. The coaching staff will give each guy an equal shot as long as possible.
Strength: Accuracy. Dasher was accurate, too, completing 58% of his passes. He completed 65% if you count the throws to the other side. Kilgore and Murphy are decent passers who should each hover above the 60% mark. Each can run a little, but Murphy is far more mobile.
Weakness: Interceptions. Throw out the 18 that Dasher gave away and the Blue Raiders still had problems. For a team that was among the worst in the nation at giving the ball away, ball security will be a must. Whichever quarterback can do that better will get the job.
Outlook: The passing game will never bomb away, and neither current option is as good as Dasher was on the right day, but Kilgore and Murphy are two veterans who know what they're doing and should be solid leaders and good, decent passers who make things happen again Sun Belt defenses. One of the two, though, has to become a factor and has to distinguish himself.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: Helped by the 543 yards from Dwight Dasher, the MT running game finished 31st in the nation averaging 181 yards per game and rolling for 2,350 yards and 32 scores. Dasher is gone along with Phillip Tanner, who came up with a terrific year with 928 yards and 13 touchdowns averaging 5.8 yards per carry. There's speed and quickness returning, but the backs have to do more without the same rushing production from the quarterback.
Ready to become a leader and a playmaker for the offense is junior Benjamin Cunningham, who stepped up this offseason and grabbed the starting job after running for 355 yards and four touchdowns, and catching 16 passes for 96 yards. The 5-10, 200-pound speedster has been clocked at 4.39 in the 40 and has home run hitting potential any time he touches the ball. After getting most of his work in blowout mode, he should become a dangerous factor.
Veteran D.D. Kyles is built like a wide receiver, which he originally was before moving to safety and then to running back, but he's a slippery-good back who tore off a few big plays and finished third on the team, and second among the running backs, with 414 yards and four scores averaging 5.4 yards per carry. He also caught five passes for 29 yards. Considering all of his skills and his great hands, he needs to do even more as a receiver out of the backfield.
5-7, 199-pound sophomore William Pratcher is a smallish, quick back with great strength for his size. He got a little bit of work running for 56 yards and a score on 20 carries, but he has the talent and ability to do far more cut-on-a-dime cutting skills and the potential to hit the home run when in the open field.
Watch Out For … A lot more from the backs. If Jeff Murphy is the starting quarterback, he'll be one of the team's top runners, but if it's Kilgore the backs are going to have to carry more of the load. There will be even more of a rotation of runners to keep everyone fresh.
Strength: Speed. Losing Tanner takes away a bit of flash, but Cunningham can fly and Kyles and Pratcher can each crank out yards in chunks. The backs should all average around five yards a carry.
Weakness: Pure power. There isn't any. The backs are going to run between the tackles, but they're speedsters whose job will be to come up with the big yards. Grinding out a tough yard or two probably won't happen if any of the backs have to barrel over a defender.
Outlook: The loss of longtime playmaker Tanner will sting a bit, and Dasher was always dangerous, but the running game should be fine even without almost 1,500 of the team's 2,350 rushing yards. Cunningham should shine with a bigger role, and Kyles and Pratcher can play.
Unit Rating: 5
State of the Unit: The team's leading receiver is gone, but he's replaceable. Garrett Andrews was a nice complementary target who came up with 34 catches for 377 yards and two scores, but he was better two years ago and there are more than enough receivers who can pick up the slack. Four of the top five most productive wide receivers from last year are back, and the passing game will spread it out and get everyone involved.
The hope was for senior Sancho McDonald to become a dangerous No. 1 target going into last year, and while he was fine, he wasn't special finishing third on the team with 21 catches for 321 yards and a score, disappearing for a long stretch in the middle of the year catching just four passes over a six game period. He has 6-3, 205-pound size and good speed, and one of the team's top recruits of a few years ago needs to stretch the field even more at the X. He'll be backed up by 6-2, 200-pound sophomore Richard Drake, 2009's top recruit who got his feet wet with eight catches for 75 yards. He's a blazer who can hit the home run.
5-9, 181-pound junior Tavarres Jefferson grew into a starting role over the second half of the season finishing with 19 catches for 247 yards and two touchdowns, averaging 13 yards per grab. He's not all that big, but he's extremely quick at the H position and is reliable, catching five passes against Georgia Tech and five more against Arkansas State. A foot problem and the surgery that followed knocked him out a few years ago, but he's well past that now and should establish himself in a bigger role. If senior Harold Turner can get past a hand injury, he'll be a factor behind Jefferson at the H after catching 15 passes for 128 yards. He's only 5-7 and 168 pounds, but he has great hands and can move.
6-5, 212-pound senior Shane Blissard has the size to be a matchup problem at the Y, and now he has to be used more. He followed up a 19-catch 2009 with a 15-grab, 152-yard season. With his size he should be a factor around the goal line, but he hasn't been so far. Considering his size and his great athleticism, he's as much of a tight end as this offense will use. Adding more quickness to the position is 5-7, 168-pound senior Tyler Mason caught 17 passes for 263 yards and two touchdowns as one of the team's most dangerous targets. A game-breaker, he came up with a 53-yard play against ULM, but he only caught two passes over the last four games of the year.
Working at the Z will be 5-11, 191-pound senior Malcolm Beyah after finishing second on the team with 29 catches for 288 yards and two touchdowns. While his production fizzled for a stretch with just four catches over the final four games, he was good for a big play here and there early on and has the potential to be the team's go-to target. Originally a receiver, he moved over to defensive back for a stretch before quickly coming back to the offensive side. He's physical and can move, while 5-9, 155-pound senior Andrew Banks is a smallish, quick target at the Z making four catches for 25 yards.
Watch Out For … Jefferson. He has always had the ability and the speed, but he hasn't been able to break out quite yet. Now that he's a starter who'll be a key playmaker at the H. He might not be the No. 1 target, but he could grow into No. 1A.
Strength: Experience. Even with the loss of Andrews, the corps is loaded with veterans who know what they're doing. The quarterbacks should be able to spread the ball around without a problem with so many good targets to get involved.
Weakness: A true No. 1. Yes, it's a positive to have several receivers to count on, but it would be nice if there was one player who could come up with five catches a game, every game. There are several players with the potential to do that, but one has to break out.
Outlook: It depends on who's at quarterback, but the receivers should be even more involved. Assuming Logan Kilgore gets the job, he'll push the ball down the field more than Dwight Dasher did, but he'll also get everyone involved. There's more than enough talent and experience to make this among the Sun Belt's most dangerous receiving corps.
Unit Rating: 5.5
State of the Unit: The Blue Raider line did a decent job, finishing second in the Sun Belt in sacks allowed while leading the way for the nation's 31st ranked rushing attack. It helped to have a mobile quarterback in Dwight Dasher to buy time, but the line did its part, too. It was expected to be the best line in the league, and it did its job. It should be almost as good with three returning starters.
The line needs another strong season out of senior Mike Williams, a smart veteran who started 11 games at left tackle. While he's undersized at 6-2 and 265-pounds, and while he isn't going to power over anyone, he's extremely quick and is fantastic at erasing opposing speed rushers. He's as tough as nails and is a strong blocker for his size, and he'll be the one the team works around on key plays.
Back at left guard is senior Brandon McLeroy, and 6-3, 300-pound blocker who's banged up, and missed a little time last year, but is the beefy run blocker the line needs. A two-year starter, working both on the right and left sides, he's a strong player for the ground game and has grown into the role.
6-3, 285-pound junior Alex Stuart will get a long look at the starting center job until everyone is healthy. A strong practice player, he was all set to become a key part of the puzzle until suffering a knee injury just before last season started. It happened early enough to allow him time to heal, and now he'll get the starting nod unless senior
Colin Boss can push him out. The 6-4, 306-pound senior started every game but two last season, and now he's trying to get past a hip injury. A good, sound, blocker, he can move to guard if he doesn't earn the starting gig in the middle again.
Trying to get past a shoulder problem is Preston Bailey, a 6-5, 300-pound right guard who started every game but one last season. A former transfer from Tennessee with great size, excellent strength, and good upside, he's one of the team's most dependable blockers. He'll combine with
Josh Walker, a 6-4, 312-pound sophomore who was a nice recruit and filled in when needed against North Texas. Versatile, he can play either tackle spot if needed.
Working in the right tackle job is Jadareius Hamlin, a 6-2, 282-pound sophomore who started against Louisiana and North Texas last season and did a nice job. Over the knee injury that knocked him out two years ago, the former defensive lineman is tough, physical, and decent in pass protection.
Watch Out For … the center job. Boss was fine last year in the starting job, but he has to be healthy and 100% to push Stuart out. The two options are big, tough, and they know what they're doing.
Strength: Experience. Four starters are back and Hamlin saw enough time to be more than fine in a starting role. The front five did a nice job all the way around last year, and the production will be there as long as everyone can stay on the field. However …
Weakness: Health. Stuart is coming off a knee injury, Boss has a banged up hip, Bailey has a shoulder, and McLeroy is trying to get to 100%. The overall depth is a little thin, literally. 6-4, 248-pound Jordan Johnson is the top backup at left tackle.
Outlook: The Blue Raiders had one of the best lines in the Sun Belt last year, and now it gets just about everyone back. The pass protection was good enough to get by and the running game was excellent. This might not be the type of line that'll flatten anyone, but it'll be solid if everyone can stay healthy.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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