Middle Tenn. Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

Posted Aug 8, 2006

MTSU Blue Raiders Preview 2006 - Further Analysis

1st and Ten – Raider Football just took on a whole new meaning – Over the past five years, the Blue Raiders knocked really hard on the proverbial door, but never had enough to kick the son-of-a-buck in as Bum Phillips once said.  The Sun Belt Conference championship sat tantalizingly as a carrot that the Blue Raiders could reach, but never were able to pull down.  Last year under former coach Andy McCollum epitomized the last three or four years perfectly.  The Blue Raiders lost the first three games of the year, including another loss to North Texas, but then went to Nashville and beat a Jay Cutler-led Vandy squad who knocked off Tennessee and nearly did the same to Florida.  Down then up, but rarely consistent.  They beat the conference champs Arkansas State by 38, then lost to the Louisiana schools by a total of six points and FIU by four.  Add in the loss to North Texas, noted above, and the Blue Raiders were once again close, but sitting at home during December while ASU went to the New Orleans Bowl.  And, along the way, McCollum became former head coach Andy McCollum.  So, Rick Stockstill takes over in Murfreesboro and much should change along the way.  Here’s a guy who played for Bobby Bowden, coached for and with Tommy Bowden and spent last year with some guy named Spurrier.  Don’t expect Stockstill to play it conservatively at all.  Sun Belt opponents can expect just about everything and anything when the Blue Raiders are on the field this year.  Stockstill has an infectious nature and should draw some solid talent to MTSU, but along the way, he’ll put together an exciting, riverboat-gambling style of football on the field.  If the Blue Raiders can’t get over that hump, again, they’ll at least be exciting to watch.

2nd and Seven – A One-Man Band? – The Blue Raider running game won’t remind you of Minnesota or Navy, that’s for sure.  Shoot, rushing for just over 100 yards per game is more reminiscent of Texas Tech, who runs the ball once every blue moon.  But, the one person directly responsible for more rushing output is the last person anyone could blame for a poor rushing attack – Eugene Gross.  The Statesboro, GA native showed that he was as good an all-around back as any RB in the conference – rushing for 762 yards and 13 TDs, catching 33 balls and generally taking the pressure of the Blue Raider offense on his shoulders.  Last year, injuries took away any other threat who could pile up yardage on the ground, so it fell to Gross to pick up all the slack.  He’s good enough to do so, but he’ll be more effective if another threat can emerge and spread out the carries.

3rd and Three – JUCO JK Just in Time – Last year’s leading tackler JK Sabb was solid from start to finish, after transferring from Georgia Military JC.  He led the team with 71 tackles, in addition to his 13 tackles for a loss.  The 5’11”, 230 pound outside backer has good speed and is built like a mack truck, so when he puts a hat on a runner, he’s going to win that battle.  Luckily for the Blue Raider faithful and first year defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, Sabb returns giving them a strong presence on the outside and a threat in many different defensive facets of the game.  With his quicks, Sabb could be a menace in blitz packages, but he can drop into coverage, as well.  The former JUCO transfer will have to pick up some of the leadership slack as both Dennis Burke and Jonathan Bonner have graduated.  But, then again, what do you think they teach you in military school?

4th and One – Chic-o-la – MTSU has had a solid run on wide receivers over the past few years.  Tyrone Calico was highly sought after and selected in the second round of the NFL draft in 2003.  Kerry Wright caught a ton of balls in his career.  Then, last year, Cleannord Saintil had a 66 catch season and was first team All-SBC.  But, this year, the best receiving option for QB Clint Marks might be tight end Stephen Chicola, perhaps the best TE in the league.  The former Bolles School product out of Jacksonville had 29 catches in 2005, which was third behind Saintil and Gross, but until a perimeter wide out can take over for Saintil, Chicola, arguably, is the best go-to option.  The big TE’s role might change with a new offense installed, but don’t expect it to negate his production, only improve it.  He’s a big target and for a team that typically features a deep threat star, Chicola can be the underneath option who shreds SBC opponents for first downs throughout the game.

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