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2007 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

CollegeFootballNews.com
Posted Jan 21, 2008


2007 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders Season Game-By-Game Recaps and More

2007 Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders

Recap: The Blue Raiders were the definition of a streaky team in 2007, opening with four losses, winning five of six, and closing with two crushing losses that ended dreams of a league title and bowl game.  Wildly unpredictable from one week to the next, Middle Tennessee State could go toe-to-toe with Louisville and Virginia, or lose to Western Kentucky and UL-Lafayette.  Injuries hastened the program’s demise, but also forced into action true freshman QB Dwight Dasher, who looks like he’ll be one of the building blocks for the next three seasons.     

Offensive Player of the Year: QB Dwight Dasher

Defensive Player of the Year: DE Tavares Jones

Biggest Surprise: Dasher.  A possible redshirt before the opener, the diminutive Dasher lit a fire under the offense after starter Joe Craddock went down with an injury.  Dasher finished the season as the Raiders’ leading rusher, while throwing nine touchdown passes to just three picks.  

Biggest Disappointment: The close calls with Louisville and Virginia were frustrating, but when Middle Tennessee State lost to UL-Lafayette on Nov. 10, it was still alive for the Sun Belt crown.  Although the Blue Raiders opened up a 14-0 lead, they couldn’t hold it, allowing Michael Desormeaux, Tyrell Fenroy, and Deon Wallace to run circles around the defense.  

Looking Ahead: Head coach Rick Stockstill has a good problem heading into 2008, two quality quarterbacks with starting experience.  Both Craddock and Dasher looked comfortable running the offense last fall, making for an interesting battle when the Blue Raiders reconvene in the spring.

- 2007 MT Preview
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2006 MT Season

2007 Schedule
CFN Prediction:
6-6
2007 Record: 5-
7

Sept. 1 at Fla Atlantic L 27-14
Sept. 6 at Louisville L 58-42
Sept. 15 at LSU L 44-0
Sept. 20
W. Kentucky L 20-17
Sept. 29 FIU W 47-6
Oct. 6 Virginia L 23-21
Oct. 13 at Memphis W 21-7
Oct. 20
Arkansas State W 24-7
Oct. 27 at North Texas W 48-28
Nov. 3 at UL Monroe W 43-40
Nov. 10 UL Lafayette L 34-24
Nov. 20 at Troy L 45-7

Nov. 19
Troy 45 ... Middle Tennessee 7
Middle Tennessee tied the game late in the first quarter on a five-yard Stephen Chicola touchdown catch. Troy completely and totally dominated on both sides the ball the rest of the way scoring 38 unanswered points with Omar Haugabook scoring on two short runs along with a one-yard Sean Dawkins run. Cornelius Williams closed out the rout with a 16-yard touchdown catch. Troy came up with 37 first downs to 12 and outgained the Blue Raiders 551 yards to 209.
Player of the game: Troy QB Omar Haugabook completed 16 of 29 passes fro 194 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 16 times for 64 yards and two scores.
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 18-25, 116 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: DeMarco McNair, 10-43. Receiving: Desmond Gee, 5-41
Troy - Passing: Omar Haugabook, 16-29, 194 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Omar Haugabook, 16-64, 2 TD. Receiving:
Jerrel Jernigan, 5-74
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
The Blue Raiders ran into a buzzsaw. With nothing to really play for outside of pride, once things started going south against Troy, the wheels came off. The team didn't quit; Troy was simply playing at a high level. Now the program once again has to figure out what it has to do to get over the hump and get to where Troy is. The defense underachieved and the offense wasn't consistent, but it all came down to the key games against FAU, UL Lafayette and Troy, and the team couldn't come through.

Nov 10
UL Lafayette 34 ... Middle Tennessee 24
UL Lafayette ran for 376 yards with Deon Wallace scoring from one and 42 yards out, and Jason Chery putting the game away with a 31-yard dash. The Blue Raiders got up 14-0 early with two Joe Craddock touchdown passes, including a 32-yard play to Taron Henry, and then the Ragin' Cajun running game took over. the two teams combined for six turnover and 18 penalties.
Player of the game: UL Lafayette QB Michael Desormeaux completed 13 of 20 passes for 152 yards and two touchdowns with two interceptions, and ran 19 times for 175 yards
Stat Leaders: UL Lafayette - Passing: Michael Desormeaux, 13-20, 152 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Michael Desormeaux, 19-175. Receiving: Tyrell Fenroy, 3-26
Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 8-11, 89 yds, 2 TD
Rushing:
Desmond Gee, 8-71. Receiving: Patrick Honeycutt, 4-22

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... With everything to play for, needing to get by UL Lafayette on Senior Day to set up a showdown for the Sun Belt title against Troy, the defense couldn't stop a running game for the second week in a row, the offense couldn't come up with the same magic from Joe Craddock or Dwight Dasher, and now the bowl dreams are gone. The offense wasn't bad, but the passing game didn't work and the defense didn't come through in the second half.

Nov. 3
Middle Tennessee 43 ... UL Monroe 40
UL Monroe took a 40-37 lead with 57 seconds to play on a six-yard touchdown catch from Zeek Zacharie. On the ensuing kickoff, Bradley Robinson returned it 89 yards for a touchdown and the improbable win. The Blue Raiders got an all-timer of a night from QB Joe Craddock, who stepped in for ran injured Dwight Dasher and threw four touchdown passes, highlighted by a 94-yard play to Jonathan Grigsby and scoring plays of 42 and 66 yards to Desmond Gee. ULM always had an answer, mostly from Calvin Dawson, who ran for scores from 17, seven and 62 yards out. A one-yard Craddock run with 2:36 to play appeared to give the Blue Raiders the lead for good, but Kinsmon Lancaster marched the Warhawks down the field finishing up with his second touchdown pass of the game before Robinson came up with his game-winner. ULM cranked out 624 yards of total offense to Middle Tennessee's 499.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee QB Joe Craddock completed 22 of 29 passes for 401 yards and four touchdown passes, and ran 11 times for 70 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 22-29, 401 yds, 4 TD
Rushing: Joe Craddock, 11-70, 1 TD. Receiving: Desmond Hee, 4-139, 2 TD
UL Monroe - Passing: Kinsmon Lancaster, 24-38, 264 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing:
Calvin Dawson, 17-180, 3 TD. Receiving: Darrell McNeal, 9-57

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Dwight Dasher still might be the team's future and leader of the offense, but Joe Craddock certainly looked like a superstar when he took over this week. He made all the right decisions against UL Monroe, accounting for 471 yards of total offense and five scores, but while he's the story, along with the kickoff return for the game-wining touchdown, the concern is the defense that allowed 624 yards of total offense. Things have to tighten up considerably over the next week against UL Lafayette before the showdown at Troy.

Oct. 27
Middle Tennessee 48 ... North Texas 28
Middle Tennessee forced five turnovers and over came a 77-yard Jamario Thomas touchdown run on UNT's second play of the game to get the win. MT went on a 23-point first half run helped by a one-yard DeMarco McNair touchdown run and two Dwight Dasher touchdown passes with Taron Henry catching a 51-yard pass. North Texas stormed back at the end of the first half with two Giovanni Vizza touchdown passes, but the Blue Raiders got a four-yard McNair scoring run with :40 to play. UNT still wouldn't go away as Vizza ran for a two-yard score to pull within two, and then MT scored the final 18 points helped by a third McNair scoring run.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee RB DeMarco McNair ran 11 times for 62 yards and two touchdowns, and caught two passes for 14 yards and a score.
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 16-21, 159 yds, 2 TD
Rushing: DeMarco McNair, 11-62, 2 TD. Receiving: Taron Henry, 6-103, 1 TD
North Texas - Passing: Giovanni Vizza, 25-45, 296 yds, 2 TD, 4 INT
Rushing:
Jamario Thomas, 10-89, 1 TD. Receiving: Sam Dibrell, 8-121, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Blue Raider might have put up 48 points on North Texas, but it was a struggle with only 335 yards and 132 on the ground. The defense made it happen with five takeaways and several big plays to make it a laugher in the second half, but it took too long to put the game away. Holding on to the ball for 37 minutes is always a good thing, but to get through the final three weeks, there will have to be more yards and more good drives.

Oct. 20
Middle Tennessee 24 ... Arkansas State 7
Middle Tennessee came up with nine sacks and a 42-yard Rod Issac fumble return for a score, while the offense chipped in with Taron Henry touchdown catches from 17 and 52 yards out in the surprisingly easy win. ASU got its only points on a six-yard Danny McNeal catch, but never got the offense going thanks to the problems up front. MT outgained ASU 384 yards to 138.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher completed 9 of 20 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 20 times for 96 yards
Stat Leaders: Arkansas State - Passing: Corey Leonard, 9-19, 116 yds, 1 TD, 3 INT
Rushing: Reggie Arnold, 14-39. Receiving: Brandon Thompkins, 3-69
Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 9-20, 118 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Dwight Dasher, 20-96. Receiving: Taron Henry, 3-71

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The defense is starting to dominate. As long as there aren't any major mistakes from Dwight Dasher and the offense, the defensive front should do the rest. Unstoppable at getting into the backfield, the Blue Raiders should wreak havoc over the next few weeks against North Texas and UL Monroe. Now the offense needs to find other runners to help Dasher out, but the passing game has its home run hitter in Taron Henry, who had a great game against Arkansas state. This was a strong win that firmly announced MT as one of the three best teams in the league.

Oct. 13
Middle Tennessee 21 ... Memphis 7
DeMarco McNair ran for touchdowns from 55 yards and one yard, and Dwight Dasher tore off a 61-yard scoring run as Middle Tennessee ran for 260 yards in the win. Memphis managed a 19-yard Duke Calhoun touchdown catch late in the first quarter, but couldn't get the offense going from there, finishing with only 248 yards.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher completed 16 of 26 passes for 230 yards and a touchdown with an interception, and ran 19 times for 180 yards and a score
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasheer, 16-26, 230 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Dwight Dasher, 19-180, 1 TD. Receiving: Desmond Gee, 4-41
Memphis - Passing: Will Hudgens, 13-35, 134 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
T.J. Pitts, 14-49. Receiving: Duke Calhoun, 4-51, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Blue Raiders had been so close to come big wins over the last few weeks, and now, because of the play of Dwight Dasher and the running game, things have changed. Memphis couldn't get anything going on the MT defense, getting stuffed time and again when running the ball, and coming away with empty drive after empty drive trying to throw it. Now the focus is all on the Sun Belt. If Florida Atlantic stumbles along the way, it's all there for MT if if it wins out. It all starts with a big game against Arkansas State.

Oct. 6
Virginia 23 ... Middle Tennessee 21
Virginia survived with Chris Gould nailing a 34-yard field goal with eight seconds to go. Middle Tennessee got two first half touchdown passes from Dwight Dasher for a 14-7 lead, and got up 21-20 after converting an interception into a one-yard DeMarco McNair touchdown run midway through the fourth. The Cavalier offense got two touchdowns from Andrew Pearman and a 20-yard John Phillips touchdown catch, but had to go 63 yards in eight plays to pull get Gould in a position to win.
Player of the game: Virginia RB Andrew Pearman ran five times for 45 yards and two touchdowns, while catching five passes for 56 yards.
Stat Leaders: Virginia - Passing: Jameel Sewell, 22-37, 223 yds, 1 TD, 1 INT
Rushing: Keith Payne, 18-70, 1 TD. Receiving: Tom Santi, 5-82
Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 17-33, 181 yds, 2 TDs
Rushing:
Dwight Dasher, 17-63. Receiving: Jonathan Grigsby, 3-39

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Blue Raiders had Virginia beaten. The offense struggled in the second half, but the defense did a decent job, playing the Cavaliers evenly throughout, but there needed to be one late stop in the final 1:20, and it didn't happen. The team is playing far better, blowing away FIU and almost beating Virginia, and now it could use even more results with a win at Memphis. To get it, QB Dwight Dasher has to be excellent again.

Sept. 29
Middle Tennessee 47 ... Florida International 6
Middle Tennessee exploded for 47 first half points as Dwight Dasher threw three touchdown passes and ran for two scores in the easy win. DeMarco McNair took a pass 71 yards for a touchdown, and scoring on a one-yard score, while Dasher's runs came from 22 and one yards out. FIU only managed 145 yards of total offense, scoring only on a fumble recovery in the end zone. MT only allowed eight first downs and forced four turnovers.
Player of the game: Middle Tennessee QB Dwight Dasher completed ten of 17 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns, and ran nine times for 58 yards and two scores
Stat Leaders: FIU - Passing: Wayne Younger, 11-22, 72 yds, 2 INT
Rushing: Amod Ned, 13-33. Receiving: Kendall Berry, 5-30
Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 10-17, 240 yds, 3 TD
Rushing:
Phillip Tanner, 12-59. Receiving: Desmond Gee, 2-42, 1 TD

Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... Talk about a cathartic win, Middle Tennessee needed a breather, and it got it with a jaw-dropping offensive explosion against FIU. The Blue Raiders only got 16 first downs, but QB Dwight Dasher hit every big play, averaging 24 yards per completion while showing good mobility. Beating FIU is hardly any reason to get too fired up, but this might be the victory that finally gets Middle Tennessee to play like the Sun Belt contender it's supposed to be.

Sept. 20
Western Kentucky 20 ... Middle Tennessee 17
Western Kentucky got the lead early in the fourth quarter when Jake Gelber caught a 22-yard touchdown pass, and then hung on as Middle Tennessee's Matt King missed a 34-yard field goal attempt as time ran out. DeMarco McNair scored on two short touchdown runs for the Blue Raiders after Tyrell Hayden gave the Hilltoppers an early lead on a nine-yard dash.
Player of the game: Western Carolina LB Blake Boyd made ten tackles, one sack, two tackles for loss
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Dwight Dasher, 14-24, 169 yds
Rushing: Dwight Dasher, 16-53. Receiving: Taron Henry, 6-81
Western Kentucky - Passing: K.J. Black, 5-7, 74 yds, 1 TD
Rushing:
Tyrell Hayden, 23-144, 1 TD. Receiving: C. Hamilton, 5-47
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The two missed field goal attempts from Matt King proved to be the difference, but the loss can hardly be blamed on him. It's hard to be consistent without the starting quarterback, as Joe Craddock missed the Western Kentucky game with a back problem. Dwight Dasher did a good job in his place, but the run defense was absent and there were several missed opportunities, and not nearly enough long drives in the second half, with WKU holding on to the ball for almost 21 minutes. As bad as things might be with the 0-4 start, thing will truly go in the tank if MT can't beat FIU next week.

Sept. 15
LSU 44 ... Middle Tennessee 0
LSU rested starting quarterback Matt Flynn, but Ryan Perrilloux proved he could be every bit as effective with a 13-yard touchdown pass to Charles Scott and a 62-yarder to Demetrius Byrd in the first half on the way to a 23-0 Tiger lead. Perrilloux added a 15-yard touchdown pass to Terrance Toliver in the third, while Brandon LaFell and Richard Murphy added third quarter scores. The Tiger defense held Middle Tennessee to just nine first downs and 90 yards of total offense.
Player of the game: LSU QB Ryan Perrilloux completed 20 of 25 passes for 298 yards and three touchdowns and ran eight times for 37 yards
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 6-11, 59 yds
Rushing: Dwight Dasher, 12-30. Receiving: DeMarco McNair, 2-25
LSU - Passing: Ryan Perrilloux, 20-25, 298 yds, 3 TD, 1 INT
Rushing:
Jacob Hester, 10-57. Receiving: Jared Mitchell, 6-82
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The Blue Raiders were hoping to build on the big performance in the loss to Louisville, but LSU made sure that didn't happen. The Tiger defense stuffed everything MT wanted to do, never letting anyone get in space to try to make the big plays made against the Cardinals. LSU blows out everyone right now, so there's no reason to be too upset about the ugliness, but now, the Blue Raiders need to beat Western Kentucky in a walk to finally get the season started.

Sept. 6
Louisville 58 ... Middle Tennessee 42
In one of the wildest shootouts in Big East history, Louisville cranked out 729 yards of total offense, but the defense couldn't handle a Middle Tennessee attack that blew up for 555 yards and made it a game late into the fourth. Up 38-35 after halftime, the Cardinals didn't pull away until Brian Brohm threw his fourth and fifth touchdowns of the game, with Mario Urrutia catching a 22-yard strike and Harry Douglas catching a short pass and going ten yards for the touchdown. UL RB Anthony Allen ran for a career high 275 yards and two touchdowns, but it was Middle Tennessee's DeMarco McNair and Phillip Tanner who provided the bolts of lightning. McNair averaged 10.3 yards per carry, helped by a 39-yard touchdown dash in the second quarter, and started off the Blue Raider scoring by taking a pass 79 yards for a score. Tanner, who averaged 16.3 yards per carry, scored three times, with his 79-yard run in the fourth quarter the team's only points of the half. Each team only punted once.
Player of the game: Louisville QB Brian Brohm completed 25 of 39 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns, and RB Anthony Allen ran 35 times for 275 yards and two scores
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 14-26, 290 yds, 2 TD, 2 INT
Rushing: Phillip Tanner, 9-144, 3 TD. Receiving: DeMarco McNair, 3-92, 1 TD
Louisville - Passing: Brian Brohm, 25-39, 401 yds, 5 TD
Rushing:
Anthony Allen, 35-275, 2 TD Receiving: Harry Douglas, 9-100, 1 TD
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ...
Where the heck did that come from? After doing next to nothing against Florida Atlantic, all of a sudden the Blue Raider offense was fast, decisive, and very, very good in the shocking 58-42 loss to Louisville. Joe Craddock played like a real live gunslinger, while Phillip Tanner and DeMarco McNair were phenomenal. Even so, 0-2 is 0-2, and there are now huge, screaming issues for a defense that wasn't remotely close to doing anything right. Now LSU is up. Whoopee.

Sept. 1
Florida Atlantic 27 ... Middle Tennessee 14
Florida Atlantic jumped out to a 24-0 lead as Rusty Smith threw two touchdown passes and Charles Pierre ran for a one-yard score, but Middle Tennessee got back in the game on a 27-yard Desmond Gee touchdown catch in the fourth quarter followed up by a 32-yard blocked punt return for a score. The Owl defense, which came up with four sacks and allowed just 11 rushing yards, held firm and Warley Leroy put it away with his second field goal of the game.
Player of the game ... Florida Atlantic RB Charles Pierre ran 16 times for 95 yards and a touchdown
Stat Leaders: Middle Tennessee - Passing: Joe Craddock, 20-32, 199 yds, 1 TD, 2 INTs
Rushing: DeMarco McNair, 11-16  Receiving: Patrick Honeycutt, 6-41
Florida Atlantic - Passing: Rusty Smith, 12-26, 195 yds, 2 TDs
Rushing:
Charles Pierre, 16-95, 1 TD  Receiving: Willie Rose, 3-14
Whoopty doo. What does it all mean, Basil? ... The defense was fine against Florida Atlantic, but it needed to be fantastic to overcome a rough day from the offense. This was Florida Atlantic, not Louisville or LSU, who MT faces over the next two weeks, and if the ground could only manage 18 rushing yards, there are huge problems ahead. Joe Craddock wasn't bad throwing the ball, but unless the offensive line starts to play better, it'll be an ugly start to the year.

Sept. 1 – at Florida Atlantic
Offense: Things should be more consistent now that the quarterback situation is settled (at least to start the year) with Rusty Smith the full-time starter and Sean Clayton the backup. The running backs are experienced and quick, and Frantz Simeon leads a decent receiving corps, but it's all up to the line which was decent in pass protection last season but awful in the running game. It's a small front five by design, and that's a major issue for a ground game that averaged just 110 yards per game and an offense that struggled to amass 300 yards and 15 points per outing. 
Defense: The defense should be tremendous is all the starters play as expected. The back seven will be among the best in the Sun Belt with all three starters returning to the linebacking corps, two All-Sun Belt caliber safeties in Kris Bartels and Taheem Acevedo, and a shut-down corner in Corey Small. The defensive front gets three starters back led by top pass rusher Josh Pinnick and star tackle Jervonte Jackson. Even so, the run defense will be average, while the pass defense will be great.


Sept. 6 – at Louisville
Offense: The coaching staff is new, but the results won’t differ much from last season when Louisville rung up 37 points and 475 yards a game.  The Cardinals will spread the field and ask future first round draft choice Brian Brohm to distribute the ball to his plethora of playmakers.  Brohm’s embarrassment of riches at receiver includes senior Harry Douglas, junior Mario Urrutia and senior Gary Barnidge, who combined for 159 receptions and 16 touchdowns in 2006.  Head coach Steve Kragthorpe and offensive coordinator Charlie Stubbs love leaning on the tight end, so Barnidge could be particularly busy this fall.  Even without Michael Bush the running game is in good shape with the returns of Anthony Allen and George Stripling, a thunder and lightning combo that had 20 touchdowns a year ago.  If Kragthorpe was able to supercharge the Tulsa offense, just imagine what he’ll do with all the resources they have in Louisville.
Defense: Not unlike the offense, the Cardinal D is aggressive, unpredictable and built on speed.  They’ll attack regularly which often means sacks, turnovers and the occasional busted play that goes for 65 yards.  The latter could happen a little more frequently in 2007, as the secondary adjusts to three new starters and uncertainty at cornerback.  Even without All-American tackle Amobi Okoye, the defensive line figures to be among the best in the Big East.  Sophomore end Peanut Whitehead and junior tackle Earl Heyman aren’t household names today, but both have the explosiveness to change that by November.  Senior linebacker Malik Jackson is a disruptive force with enough range to wreak havoc all over the field.

Sept. 15 – at LSU
Offense: There's a little bit of nervousness among LSU fans with a major change underway in the offense under new coordinator Gary Crowton. There'll be more option, more quick timing patterns, and quicker reads on the line. Fortunately, the loss of JaMarcus Russell won't hurt as much as it would for almost any other program with Matt Flynn and Ryan Perrilloux returning to run the attack. The backfield is loaded with options led by star newcomer Keiland Williams working behind a great line with enough returning experience to dominate. The receiving corps won't be as productive without Dwayne Bowe and Craig Davis, but Early Doucet and Brandon LeFall will be a great 1-2 combination.
Defense: The nation's number three defense in each of the last two years might crank things up yet another notch with eight starters returning led by the nation's most impressive line. Tackle Glenn Dorsey and end Tyson Jackson might be top five draft picks next season, while Ali Highsmith leads a fantastic linebacking corps that'll only get better once the star prospect backups get more time. Chevis Jackson and Jonathan Zenon form a top lock-down corner tandem, while Craig Steltz and Curtis Taylor will be more than just fill-ins for safeties LaRon Landry and Jessie Daniels. With all the talent returning, expect more big plays, more turnovers, and more dominance against the average to bad teams.


Sept. 22 – Western Kentucky

Sept. 29 - FIU
Offense New offensive coordinator James Coley has a lot of work to do with an offense that finished dead last in America in scoring averaging fewer than ten points per game and 116th in the nation in yards averaging 233 per outing. Eight starters return, including the entire offensive line, and there's good potential in the backfield with the 1-2 rushing punch of Julian Reams and A'mod Ned, but the passing game needs work with Paul McCall likely to take over at quarterback and no experience at receiver to rely on. 
Defense: The defense did what it could with no help from the offense, and now seven starters return with a shot to be among the league's best. The secondary gets all four starters back, led by Lionell Singleton at corner. The line is big and good with a pair of strong 300-pounders (Roland Clarke and Jonas Murrell) inside. Now for the problem: the great linebacking corps loses all three starters. The top four tacklers are gone, along with the top pass rushers. Keyonvis Bouie, Alexander Bostic, and Antwan Barnes were stars who won't be easily replaced.


Oct. 6 - Virginia
Offense: Until the receivers prove they can play, it'll be run, run and run some more with mobile quarterback Jameel Sewell and decent backs Cedric Peerman and Keith Payne working behind a much improved, veteran line. The tight ends are excellent, but the receiving corps suffered a nasty blow when it lost leading receiver Kevin Ogletree with a knee injury. Now it'll be up to Sewell, a rising star but an inconsistent passer, to make everyone around him better. Don't expect anything flashy for a while.
Defense: Somewhat quietly, the Virginia defense had a terrific year finishing 17th in the nation in total D and 22nd in scoring D. It should be even better with ten starters returning, including top linemen Chris Long and Jeffrey Fitzgerald to anchor the front three. All four starting linebackers are back to form a solid group that doesn't make a whole bunch of mistakes. This might not be the most athletic defense, but it's aggressive and is always around the ball.

Oct. 13 – at Memphis
Offense: The offense had its moments, but it was consistently mediocre and not nearly explosive enough. The ground game struggled behind a bad offensive line, and now the hope fill be for Joseph Doss to get more room behind a more experienced front five. The passing attack should shine, led by veteran quarterback Martin Hankins and the usual array of tall, athletic Tiger receivers. Duke Calhoun is a rising star touchdown maker, while Earnest Williams is a solid target to keep the chains moving.
Defense: A disaster last year, especially against the pass and at getting into the backfield, the defense is undergoing an almost complete overhaul with several newcomers taking over for established veterans. The 4-3 needs to start making more big plays behind the line, and the hope will be for a steady rotation of players to keep everyone fresh and be more productive. The key will be the play of corners LaKeitharun Ford and Michael Grandberry, who need to beef up a secondary that allowed 231 yards per game and finished 116th in the nation in pass efficiency defense.

Oct. 20 - Arkansas State
Offense: Run, run and run some more. At least that's what ASU has done over the last several years, and it has the talent in the backfield to do it again with speedy quarterback Corey Leonard leading a loaded group of runners with several great backs to hand off to. Reggie Arnold is the best of the bunch, but he's one of just four good options to carry the load. Two problems with what ASU likes to do. 1. The line needs major revamping losing three key players and 2) the receiving corps might be the team's second biggest strength behind the running backs. The underutilized corps has speed to burn, but Leonard couldn't get them the ball on a consistent basis last season. That has to quickly change.
Defense: It's all up to the defensive line. The linebacking corps, despite some huge losses, will be surprisingly solid with Koby McKinnon returning with plenty of help around him. The safeties are tremendous with Tyrell Johnson and Khayyam Burns each on the fast track to All-Sun Belt honors. The corners are deep and potentially a major strength of the defense. And then there's the line, which has to figure out how to get to the quarterback at some point. The return of Brian Flagg and Brandon Rollins from injuries will be a huge boost. The 4-3 alignment works, and it should produce the league's best statistical pass defense.


Oct. 27 – at North Texas
Offense: The offense hasn't moved the ball in two years finishing 117th in the nation last season in yards and 115th in scoring. The look of the attack will change dramatically as new head coach Todd Dodge will incorporate his spread attack in an attempt to get something going. The backfield is solid with RB Jamario Thomas leading the way and a slew of veteran, yet mediocre quarterbacks returning. The receiving corps will need a while to jell with all the talent in the incoming freshman class, while the line will be a major problem early on.
Defense: The defense improved dramatically after making a drastic move to the 3-4. Now it'll go back to a traditional 4-3 and hope the overall experience and depth will pay off with more big plays after forcing just 14 turnovers. The linebackers will be solid with the return of Maurice Holman, Brandon Monroe and Derek Mendoza, while Aaron Weathers anchors a secondary that should be better in time. Generating a pass rush from the front four is a must, but Jeremiah Chapman will be a good end to work around.


Nov. 3 – at UL Monroe
Offense: The best offense in the Sun Belt gets 11 starters back led by RB Calvin Dawson working behind a terrific line with several all-star candidates. QB Kinsmon Lancaster has a year of starting experience under his belt, and he has all his top targets to get the ball to including LaGregory Sapp and tight end Zeek Zacharie. While the attack will spread it out and allow Lancaster to use his mobility and big-time arm to find the right receiver, it'll be Dawson who carries the workload when things get tight.
Defense: The same problems ULM had last year appear to be the same issues going into this year with a questionable run defense and no proven pass rush, but the strength, the secondary, will be the same even without Kevin Payne and Chaz Williams. The 4-2-5 did its job against mediocre offenses, but got ripped apart by any offense with a pulse. Unless the line is better, the Warhawks will be pounded on by everyone in the Sun Belt.


Nov. 10 - UL Lafayette
Offense: The nation's seventh best rushing team two years ago, and 11th best last year, ULL will run more than ever with the return of two-time 1,000-yard back Tyrell Fenroy, speedy Deon Wallace, and running quarterback Michael Desormeaux. The receivers aren't used much, but they're experienced enough to make plays when they get the chance. The offensive line isn't deep, but the starting five will end up fine. The team will hope for around 2,500 rushing yards, and around 60% completion percentage throwing it.
Defense: New defensive coordinator Kevin Fouqueir won't change too much from one of the Sun Belt's better defenses. Five starters return, along with a few others with starting experience, to form a solid run defense that needs to be tighter against the pass. The secondary will give up completions, but it's not going to get beaten too often. The front seven should be great with a nice blend of talents and depth to form a good rotation almost everywhere. If ULL doesn't lead the league in run defense, it'll finish second.


Nov. 20 – at Troy
Offense: Spread it out with four wide receivers, let Sun Belt Player of the Year Omar Haugabook throw to the open guy, hope it all works. This isn't an explosive attack, and it won't be for a while with a mixed bag of talents on the front line trying to fit the puzzle. The running backs are fine with the return of Sean Dawkins helping out Kenny Cattouse, and Gary Banks and Mykeal Terry lead an inexperienced receiving corps that'll be fine. But it's all up to Haugabook. He's the difference between a second straight Sun Belt title and a losing season.
Defense:
Troy won the Sun Belt title despite a mediocre year from the defense. Now the D will be positively dominant with the best secondary and a defensive line that's either the best, or a close second behind Middle Tennessee's. Generating pressure won't be a problem with phenomenal pass rushers from every spot, while the secondary will use five and six defensive backs at times just to get all its talent on the field. The linebacking corps is the weakness of the defense by default considering how good the line and secondary will be, but it'll still be fantastic with Boris Lee and Marcus Richardson each deserving all-star consideration.


 

 


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