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October 11, 2012Tweet Follow @GoMiddle Follow @Derrick_Griggs
Last week, Middle Tennessee hosted Louisiana Monroe for homecoming and tried to establish themselves as the top team in the Sun Belt Conference. Unfortunately, the Warhawks had other ideas. The Blue Raiders were able to strike first as K Carlos Lopez nailed a career-long 44-yard field goal, but that would be the only points Middle Tennessee would score in the first half as the offense struggled with untimely penalties and turnovers.
Coming out of halftime, Monroe led 17-3, but didn't stop there as the Blue Raiders had a hard time keeping the Warhawks off the field - giving up two more touchdowns in the process. Middle Tennessee would try to make a comeback, but a late-game interception ended the run and Monroe went on to win, 31-17.
As for the Golden Panthers, they hosted the Arkansas State Red Wolves in another SBC matchup. Just like Middle Tennessee, Florida International struck first with an early field goal, but from that point on the Red Wolves made sure to never give the preseason Sun Belt pick a chance to win. ASU would show just how hard their offense is to stop as they throttled FIU to the tune of a 34-20 win. The loss dropped the Golden Panthers to last place in the Sun Belt standings.
Last season, Florida International came to Murfreesboro to take on a Blue Raider team that was reeling from a four game losing streak and one of the worst meltdowns in team history. The Golden Panthers had no plan to throw a pity-party for Middle Tennessee and dominated the game 28-6 before the Blue Raiders were finally able to score a touchdown. Middle Tennessee would go on to lose the game 31-18, losing their fifth straight game. The Blue Raiders will try to return the favor Saturday in Miami.
Middle Tennessee leads the all-time series 4-3.
The game plan on offense for the Blue Raiders will have to focus on getting ahead early and being able to implement the running game, something that killed MT last week as they got away from that area of attack. In the three games that the Blue Raiders have ran for over 150 yards on the ground, they have won.
Expect RB Benny Cunningham to see a heavy workload this week as he looks to have a bounce back game after struggling to get things going against ULM and fumbling the ball on a key drive for the Blue Raiders.
If the offense is able get ahead of the chains and stay balanced, Middle Tennessee should have no problem moving the ball and scoring on Florida International, as long as they do not let turnovers ruin their opportunities.
Whether they play or not, the Blue Raider defense will still have to focus on stopping the offense that has still produced respectable numbers even with all of the injury bugs. Florida International is ranked 93rd in the country in total offense, averaging 364 yards per game - 211 passing and 153 rushing.
The key matchup in this game will be the Middle Tennessee defensive going up against the Golden Panther offensive line. There are two reasons why this matchup will be crucial. The first of which is the all-important task of stopping the running game - something that has given the Blue Raiders trouble the last two seasons. If the defensive line can get a nice push into the backfield and clog up the running lanes, it will go a long way in helping MT come away with a win.
Secondly, MT has only sacked the opposing QB eight times on the season - not a stat to hang their hats on by any means. On the flip side, FIU has allowed 14 sacks on the season, and as ASU showed last week, they are vulnerable in third-and-long situations. If the Blue Raiders can get pressure on the QB and rattle him, it could possibly help the defense have their best game of the season.
Expect QB Logan Kilgore to throw the ball no more than 30 times as the Blue Raiders will look to take on more of a running attack to keep the Golden Panther defense guessing. RB Benny Cunningham will have a nice-bounce back game as he rushes for over 100 yards and I predict he will reach paydirt twice on the day.
The Middle Tennessee defense will have a bend but don't break attitude as they allow Florida International to make a game of it, but the should be able to contain a struggling offense and get their help the Blue Raiders land their second conference win of the season.
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