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September 20, 2013

Preview: MT at FAU

PREVIEW: MIDDLE TENNESSEE AT FLORIDA ATLANTIC:

The Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders (2-1, 0-0) will hit the road again this Saturday when they travel south to take on a familiar foe in the Florida Atlantic Owls (1-2, 0-1) in their inaugural C-USA contest. The Blue Raiders will be looking to start their conference slate off in the right direction by continuing their winning ways over the Owls. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. CT and the game will air live on CSS.

Last week, MT hosted in-state rival Memphis in a game that was dominated by the defenses of both teams. The Blue Raiders looked to be on their way to an easy victory after jumping out to a 14-3 lead, but the Tigers made it a game, scoring 12 unanswered points to take the lead late in the game, 15-14. MT dug down deep in the final minutes, though, and the offense, which had struggled all night long, was able to drive into field goal range. From there, K Cody Clark stepped up and nailed a 40-yard FG, which would ultimately serve as the game winner for the Blue Raiders.

As for the Owls, they traveled north where they took on a slumping South Florida team. Both teams were looking to turn their season around and notch their first victory. Just like the MT/UM game, both offenses struggled on the day, with neither unit eclipsing 300 total yards of offense. Despite their struggles, FAU handled the Bulls in this one, thanks in large part to three USF turnovers. FAU would go on to win by a 28-10 margin, marking what was perhaps the biggest win for the program in quite some time.

Middle Tennessee leads the overall series against FAU by a 7-to-3 margin, including five straight wins. This game will be the third time that each squad has opened their conference schedule against each other. MT is 2-1 in those games.

KEYS TO THE GAME:

On offense, this week's Key to the Game will be all about production. In the past two weeks, the Blue Raider offense has been nothing short of a disappointing when it comes to moving the ball and putting points on the board. Thanks to their inefficiency, all the questions marks around this team have shifted over to that side of the ball. Questions surrounding the shoulder of QB Logan Kilgore continue to creep up, especially after a sub-par performance against North Carolina. Last week, however, it was the running game that failed to generate any success against a game Memphis defense, which caused the MT offense to be more one-dimensional and fairly predictable.

For MT, now is the time to put up or shut up against a team that they have had their way with over the years. Kilgore will need to make better decisions when it comes to the deep ball and limiting the turnovers, which have been a major deterrent to the offense finding their groove as of late. Basically, MT needs to come out and make a statement in this game on offense. Despite limiting USF in their game, FAU has their fair share of struggles defensively. The Blue Raiders will need to exploit those weaknesses early and often in this game.

On the other side of the ball, the defensive Key to the Game this week will be about keeping up the pressure and continuing to improve. Entering the season, the defense was the biggest question mark, but after three games, the defense is the sole reason the Blue Raiders have one of their two wins, and appear to be getting better every week.

The pressure brought on by the defense on opposing QBs has been a big part of the progression this season as they have accumulated nine sacks so far on the season. To put that in perspective, MT had a total of 15 sacks in all of 2012. That pressure has also played a big part in Blue Raiders forcing turnovers an average of two times per game. That makes the pressure aspect all the more important in this game. FAU is not known for their passing prowess, so containing the QB and getting pressure in the pocket will be a major focus in this contest.

PLAYERS TO WATCH:

Middle Tennessee:

RB Jordan Parker
- Parker has carried the ball 58 times on the season for 320 yards and three TDs. The Owls allow an average of 193 rushing yards per game, so one would think that Parker has been licking his chops in preparations for this game. Parker eclipsed the century mark in five out of his last seven games - expect him to make that six out of eight after Saturday.

Florida Atlantic:

QB Jaquez Johnson
- Johnson has completed 30-of-51 pass attempts for 243 yards and two INTs this season. Known for his running ability, he has also rushed for 124 yards and one TD. This dual-threat QB is a hard runner and is very hard to bring down. If the Blue Raiders lose containment, he could explode in this contest. Johnson is definitely one to keep an eye on in this one.

PREDICTION: MT 30, FAU 17:

The Blue Raiders need a big day out of their offense following back-to-back subpar performances. The running game struggled mightily last week, but I believe they will rebound in a big way against an FAU team that struggles against the run. With Jeremiah Bryson back in the mix, I see MT rushing for over 200 yards as a team this week.

With a full week of practice and, more importantly, more healing time for his throwing shoulder, QB Logan Kilgore should be poised to put up the numbers that fans have been waiting to see from him this season. Going back to the practice element, I expect the timing between Kilgore and his receivers to be much improved this week, meaning a better looking offense and a victory for the Blue Raiders. I look for Kilgore to eclipse 250 passing yards with a pair of scores to his credit while Parker runs for well over 100 yards and a score of his own.

Look for the Blue Raiders to take the win here, 30-17.



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