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December 1, 2012

Week 14 Preview: MT at ASU

On Wednesday the news came out that the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (8-3, 6-1) would be leaving the Sun Belt Conference and joining Conference USA. The news has kind of overshadowed possibly one of the biggest games in Blue Raider history as they travel south to take on the Arkansas State Redwolves (8-3, 6-1) in hopes of sealing their first outright Sun Belt Championship. Kickoff is set for 2:00 PM.

Last week, Middle Tennessee hosted the Troy Trojans in their last home game of the year. The game had all the makings to be an offensive shootout, but turned into a defensive battle. Both teams were able to move the ball, but struggled to produce points. Late in the fourth, with Troy leading 21-16, the Trojans were driving until DB Kevin Byard intercepted a pass and returned it for 77 yards to give the Blue Raiders a 24-21 lead that they would hold on to. The win would be the first against Troy in the Stockstill era.

As for the Redwolves, they are coming off a bye week that has given them extra time to prepare themselves for the Blue Raiders. Before the bye week, they took on Troy as well and just like the Blue Raiders, they were barely able to squeak out a close victory. ASU was able to survive the scare, winning 41-34 with the help of almost 600 total yards in a game where not a lot of defense was displayed.

As the two teams go into the game looking to win the Sun Belt, Middle Tennessee leads the series 9-4, but the Redwolves won last year's meeting, 45-19.

OFFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

Going into Saturday's game, the Blue Raiders - for the last two weeks - have utilized more of a game managing offense instead of the high scoring offense they were earlier in the season. On the season, Middle Tennessee's offense is ranked 56th in the nation in total yards, averaging 410 yards per game - 225 passing and 185 rushing. The team is also averages 29 points per game, good enough for 65th in the national rankings.

The defense for Arkansas State is the weak point of their team. On the season, they give up an average of 403 yards per game, ranking them 67th in the nation. Pass defense would be the worst part of their defense as they give up 244 passing yards a game while their defense is 59th in rush defense, allowing 159 yards. ASU has also given up 28 points per game on the season.

The game plan for Saturday's game will have to be bringing back the high scoring offense that the Blue Raiders produced earlier in the season, because the chances of stopping the Redwolves offense is very slim. This game should have plenty of offensive prowess and the Blue Raiders have one that can compete as QB Logan Kilgore is having a career-best year and freshman sensation Jordan Parker has rushed for over 100 yards in the last three games.

DEFENSIVE BREAKDOWN

This matchup for both teams appears to be a defensive nightmare as both team have a less than stellar defense. On the season, the Arkansas State offense is ranked 18th in total yards, averaging 479 yards per game - 266 passing and 212 rushing - while averaging 36 points per game. Their offense is led by dual-threat QB Ryan Aplin, who has accumulated 3,270 yards and 25 touchdowns on the season.

The Middle Tennessee defense has struggled all year, but they have took on the role of the "bend but don't break" style of defense, which has helped them win 8 games on the season. The team is ranked 88th in total defense, allowing 434 yards per game - 254 passing and 180 rushing - while allowing 26 points per game. The Blue Raiders will have to continue this trend in this week's game, because they will give up yards, but will have to limit the scoring chances in the redzone.

Besides Aplin, the Blue Raider defense will have to keep their eye on RB David Oku, who has rushed for 922 rushing yards, while reaching paydirt 14 times, in his first season with the Redwolves.

PREDICTION: MT 33, ASU 40

This game has all the makings to be thriller between two high-powered offenses, and two subpar defenses. Unfortunately for the Blue Raiders, Arkansas State's offense is better and harder to stop.

Look for Kilgore to continue on his career best year, while Parker will run for around 150 yards in the game, but it still won't be enough as Middle Tennessee will far short, allowing the Redwolves to win their second straight Sun Belt Championship.



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