2010 MTSU Preview – Offense
MTSU QB Dwight Dasher
CollegeFootballNews.com 2010 Preview - Middle Tennessee Blue Raider Offense
Preview 2010 - Offense
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What You Need To Know: Mike Schultz, the team's third offensive coordinator in three seasons, came to the job just before spring ball, but he's not going to change a whole bunch with a slew of good veterans in place from one of the Sun Belt's most dynamic offenses. Dwight Dasher is a running quarterback who improved his passing ability by leaps and bounds, but he's not going to have to do it alone this year with RB Phillip Tanner back from a knee injury. The strength of the offense should be the line, which returns four starters, and it should be allowed to do more for the running game. The receiving corps is big, fast, and has the basics, but there isn't a lot of experience and there isn't a sure-thing No. 1 target to rely on.
Star of the offense: Senior QB Dwight Dasher
Passing: Dwight Dasher
219-339, 2,789 yds, 23 TD, 14 INT
Rushing: Dwight Dasher
224 carries, 1,154 yds, 13 TD
Receiving: Garrett Andrews
35 catches, 530 yds, 4 TD
Player who has to step up and be a star: Junior WR Sancho McDonald
Unsung star on the rise: Junior OG Brandon McLeroy
Best pro prospect: Senior RB Phillip Tanner (as a returner, all-around player)
Top three all-star candidates: 1) Dasher, 2) OT Mike Williams, 3) Tanner
Strength of the offense: Dasher, Offensive Line
Weakness of the offense: Proven Receivers, Line Size
Projected Starter: The big question going into last season was whether or not Dwight Dasher was ready to step up and become the star many in the program thought he could be. He was always a good rusher and a dynamic playmaker, but he was too inconsistent, didn't practice well, and ended up splitting time when he should've made the team his. The concerns about his potential quickly went away as he blew past his sophomore slump to complete 55% of his passes for 2,789 yards and 23 touchdowns, while also leading the team with 1,154 yards and 13 scores, averaging 5.2 yards per carry. The 5-10, 202-pound senior throws too many interceptions (14 last year) and he's used way too much for the ground game, but now he comes into the season as the best player in the Sun Belt and a leader expected to carry the team on his back. After running for 201 yards and two touchdowns in the New Orleans Bowl win over Southern Miss, and after leading the way to a big season, he's the key to the Sun Belt race.
Projected Top Reserves
While Dasher is the unquestioned starter, the buzz in the offseason was around Logan Kilgore, a 6-3, 174-pound bomber from Bakersfield College who throws darts. He's not going to run very much, if at all, but he could be in the equation to throw the team back into games if something happens to Dasher.
Watch Out For … the backup situation. It's asking a lot for Dasher to take the pounding he does running the ball, and there has to be a concern that a player who gets so much work and is such a major part of the offense could go down. Kilgore needs to see time in case disaster strikes.
Strength: Dasher. If he has the season like he did in 2009, he's the type of player who can take the Blue Raiders to a Sun Belt title and a special season. Kilgore is an extremely promising reserve.
Weakness: Dasher's interceptions. He makes too many careless plays, and while they pale in comparison to the great things he does, ball security is a must.
Outlook: Even with a new offensive coordinator in place, there won't be too many changes to Dasher's game. He's the star of the show and he'll be turned loose as the leader of the veteran attack. Kilgore should eventually bring more of a passing element to the attack, but he's it for the backups. If injuries hit, look out.
Unit Rating: 8
Projected Starters: Senior Phillip Tanner appeared to be ready for a breakout season, but a knee injury early on ended things early after rushing for just 83 yards and a score. The 6-0, 208-pounder has decent power, but his game is about speed and quickness with the skills to be used in a variety of ways. He can be a reliable receiver out of the backfield, or a home-run hitter in space, and now it'll be his job to handle more of the ground game. He scored 15 times in 2008 but he only averaged 3.8 yards per carry.
Projected Top Reserves: 6-1, 198-pound junior D.D. Kyles is built like a wide receivers, which he was originally expected to be (before moving to safety and then to running back). He ended up playing a big role when Tanner went down for the year finishing second on the team with 857 yards and three touchdowns, highlighted by a 177-yard, touchdown day against Louisiana. He averaged 6.2 yards per carry, but he didn't do enough as a receiver, considering his skills, catching 14 passes for 182 yards and a score.
When Tanner went down, a role opened up for sophomore Benjamin Cunningham , a quick 5-10, 190-pounder who got a little work running for 172 yards and two touchdowns, including a key score in the bowl win over Southern Miss. In a backfield full of fast players, Cunningham might have the best wheels clocking in a 4.39 in the 40.
Watch Out For … the backs to take the heat off of Dwight Dasher. The quarterback had 224 of the team's 519 carries, but part of the problem was the loss of Tanner to a knee injury. Now that Kyles knows what he's doing, he'll get the ball more with Tanner expected to still carry the load.
Strength: Dasher. Having a quarterback with the speed and talent to rip off a 1,154-yard season takes the pressure off of everyone else, and there should be plenty of lanes for the speedy backs to blow through.
Weakness: Durability. Tanner hasn't been able to stay healthy and Kyles isn't built to take a big pounding. There's almost no power to rely on.
Outlook: Speed, speed, speed. Middle Tennessee has always had fast backs, but the production hasn't always been there. That changed last year in the ground game, and while Dasher had everything to do with that, Kyles came up with a nice season. With a great line to work behind, expect the ground game to flirt with 2,500 yards.
Unit Rating: 5
Projected Starters: With so many big losses at wide receiver, it'll be vital for junior Sancho McDonald to step up and become a major factor. One of the team's top recruits of a few years ago, the 6-3, 200-pound speedster hasn't played up to his promise with just 24 catches for 255 yards and two scores last season. However, he was the type of recruit who went elsewhere to a much bigger school if he wasn't hurt for most of his senior year of high school, and he has the skills to bust out.
6-5, 212-pound junior Shane Blissard has excellent size and he knows how to use it. He was good for a catch or two in most games finishing with 19 grabs for 283 yards and three touchdowns, and two of those scores came in the final two games of the season. He might not be a star at the Y, but he'll be a key factor in the offense seeing plenty of single coverage.
MTSU has plenty of big receivers, but sophomore Harold Turner isn't one of them. The 5-8, 166-pounder might be a wisp, but he has excellent hands and should play a bigger role in the offense after catching 14 passes for 223 yards and three touchdowns with most of his production, including two scores, coming against Western Kentucky.
6-3, 206-pound senior Garrett Andrews was a good complementary target finishing tied for second on the team with 35 catches for 530 yards and four scores averaging 15.1 yards per catch. While he didn't have any big games, he was a steady receiver throughout the season and is as reliable as they come. He'll work on the inside and benefits from the mobility of Dwight Dasher, able to find the openings when plays break down.
Projected Top Reserves: Sophomore Tavarres Jefferson got a couple of starts as a true freshman and ended up playing in six games finishing with 11 grabs for 104 yards and a score. A foot problem and subsequent surgery knocked him out, but he's back and has the potential to be a game-breaker with tremendous quickness and good straight-line speed. He can be used as a kick and punt returner if needed.
Redshirt freshman Richard Drake was a top recruit for the program last year with 6-2, 208-pound size and 4.41 speed. A high school track star, he has all the tools to be special on the outside X position when he gets a chance, but he doesn't have any experience and will need some time and polish.
JUCO transfer Jamar Brown was brought in to produce right away. The 6-2, 218-pound junior caught 28 passes for 592 yards and six scores for Feather River Community College, and he has the size and speed to push for time right away. He's an excellent all-around athlete with good upside.
Watch Out For … McDonald. He has to be the player the Blue Raiders thought they were getting a few seasons ago. The raw skills are there, and the potential to shine on the outside is there, but the production has to follow.
Strength: A good blend of size and speed. This is a big group with plenty of flash, and the big plays will be there with the potential for the entire corps to average over 13 yards per catch.
Weakness: Overall proven production. The Blue Raiders have a few good players, but the depth is lacking and the sure things aren't there to do everything the coaching staff might like. There are plenty of unproven commodities the team will have to rely on.
Outlook: This is one of the team's biggest X factors. There are some nice prospects in McDonald, Blissard, and Jefferson, but after losing the top two receivers from last year, along with some key reserves, this is a corps long on potential that needs to shine early on.
Unit Rating: 4.5
Projected Starters: Preston Bailey, a transfer who has the talent to become one of the stars of the front five, took over the starting right guard this spring and should quickly be an anchor. The 6-5, 315-pounder is big, strong, and very, very good with the ability to earn All-Sun Belt honors sooner than later. He's the type of blocker who'll bury defensive linemen.
Ready to be the new star of the line, and for lack of a better word, the anchor, is Mike Williams, a 6-2, 260-pound left tackle who earned all-star honors last season and should be a lock for the All-Sun Belt team. While he's undersized and 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.
Senior Mark Fisher is a veteran right tackle who earned second-team All-Sun Belt honors. He has had problems with a shoulder injury, but he's a tough 6-3, 272-pound blocker who fights through the bumps and bruises to produce at a high level. He's a steady pass protector and is great on the move, but he's not going to flatten anyone in the running game despite being a tough guy.
The key question mark for a veteran line will be at center, where first-team All-Sun Belt star Mark Thompson has to be replaced. In steps Alex Stuart, who spent most of last year at left guard and he'll now he'll get a shot to take over the center job. After a phenomenal spring last year, he grew into a role last year at guard to become one of the team's best run blockers. A good athlete for his 6-3, 281-pound size, the junior has the potential to be an all-star.
Moved around where needed will be junior Brandon McLeroy, a nice veteran who started 12 times last year, working mostly at right guard, and with the potential to shine at left guard. He's a strong run blocker who could grow into the anchor for the ground game with a little bit of time. At 6-3 and 305 pounds he has the size, and now he has the experience to be a star once his body matures a bit.
Projected Top Reserves: Chris Hawkins is a 6-3, 285-pound senior who's versatile enough to play anywhere on the line. He's quick and he knows what he's doing, and now he's in a fight to take over the starting job at center while also being tried out at guard.
6-4, 306-pound Colin Boss has been a decent reserve over the last few years, and he got five starts in 2008. The junior spent most of his time at guard early on before moving to tackle, and while he's not all that quick, he brings far more size to the outside than the projected starters. He has good upside and should be a bigger part of the rotation.
Senior Evan Lettsome is a smallish, quick 260-pound guard with a little bit of experience. At 6-4 he's built more like a tackle, but he has the strength to work inside at either guard spot. While he's not going to become a steady starter, he has been around long enough to step in for a stretch.
Bringing more size at tackle is 6-4, 312-pound Josh Walker , a promising redshirt freshman who was a nice recruit and should eventually become a cornerstone for the line. Versatile, he can play either tackle spot or could even see time at guard if needed.
Watch Out For … the line to be the strength of the team. With four returning starters, and Hawkins a solid veteran to take over in the middle, the Blue Raiders will win games because their O line will be better than every defensive front on the Sun Belt slate.
Strength: Veterans. The MTSU O line has proven starters, decent reserves, and good potential, but the key will be the cohesion among the four starters. They can even move around a bit and the production would still be solid.
Weakness: Tackle size. The tackles are quick, but Fisher is just 272 pounds and Williams is a mere 260. They can play, but against the bigger defensive lines they'll have problems shoving anyone around for the ground game.
Outlook: If this isn't the best line in the Sun Belt, it'll be a close second. The pass protection will be solid, even with a mobile, running quarterback in Dwight Dasher taking a few sacks here and there. The ground game will be excellent behind this veteran front five and it'll be the key to a good offensive season.
Unit Rating: 5.5
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