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October 8, 2013

3 Midseason Takeaways

1. MT HAS THEIR IDENTITY, BUT IS IT ENOUGH?

Does this Middle Tennessee football team have an identity yet? A positive identity, at least? I think we can hone in on one at this point in the season. There are still a ton of question marks around this team, but what we do know is this team has fight in them. They are tough, nasty and gritty.

In MT's wins this season, they have gritted and gutted things out - a testament to the preaching that Rick Stockstill and his staff have harped on for the last two seasons. Even in their losses, people walk away impressed with the determination and refusal to quit, both positive mindsets that have been instilled in this team. So, with that said, let us go ahead and establish that characteristic as MT's identity.

Now the question becomes do you want toughness to be the Blue Raiders identity? It's a great quality to have, no doubt about it, but does it amount to wins? If you are a follower of the program, would you rather the team have the identity of a high-powered offense, or a steel-curtain-like defense? Are the alternatives more desirable? Or is the fact that there is an identity at all something that should be taken and ran with? The questions could go on for days. I will say this - there are worse things in the world to be called than tough.

2. HALFWAY THROUGH THE SEASON, AND GAME 7 IS AS CRUCIAL AS THEY COME.

The Blue Raiders are 3-3 (1-1) through the halfway point of the season. The good news is that they have those three wins. The bad news is that they are mired in mediocrity right now, offensively, and are in the midst of a two-game slide heading into Saturday's crucial showdown against North Texas - another team with their backs to the wall at this junction.

This game is going to be a benchmark, one way or another, when we look back at this campaign after it is all said and done. It will either serve as the game where the Blue Raiders got things back on track and righted the ship, or it could be the point of the season where the wheels came off. Proper coach speak will reveal that the next game on the schedule is always the most important one, but at this time, I believe this meeting holds a little more merit.

This much I know - if MT loses against the Mean Green, there is no way they come back and beat Marshall the next week. I just do not see a scenario where that would happen. And if that were to happen, it would mark four straight losses heading into the home stretch of the season. At that point, the "easier" games left on the schedule now become crapshoots, not to mention MT's chances at a conference title are virtually out of the question.

The Blue Raiders are now on the backend of their toughest four-game stretch this season, but going 0-for-4 during this stretch would be a complete disaster moving forward. To be blunt, the Blue Raiders need to figure some things out this week and get the win.

3. IT IS TIME TO ADJUST THE OFFENSE.

The Blue Raiders are really at a crossroads when it comes to the offense. Senior QB Logan Kilgore, despite coming off of his best performance of the year against ECU, has been vastly ineffective this season and plagued by the turnover bug. Sophomore RB Jordan Parker is in a rut of his own, and was actually out-carried by Reggie Whatley during the ECU game. Parker has shown the ability to break big plays in the past, but his reluctance to hit his holes is obvious this season, and it is hampering his production in the last few weeks. Perhaps giving the bulk of the workload to other backs last week will awaken Parker, and we will see him back to his old ways. He is still on pace to hit right at 1000 yards this season, he just needs to remember what got him on that pace to begin with.

As for Kilgore, he has got to be smarter with the football. Head coach Rick Stockstill is going to stick with his guy, let's go ahead and get that out of the way. There will be no changes at the QB position outside of what we have already seen this season where backup QB Austin Grammer comes to change things up. Now, with that out of the way, it is time for Kilgore to step up and get back to his game-managing ways. For him to do that, the running game obviously needs to get going, but his receivers need to get going as well. To date, only five Blue Raiders are averaging more than 10 yards per catch. To put that into perspective, nine Blue Raiders averaged more than 10 yards per catch last season. That, my friends, is called a drop-off.

As inconsistent as Kilgore has been, it does not help that the play calling has been rather mundane and predictable at times. Opposing defenses are playing up on MT right now because the threat of the deep ball is simply not there. This is, in turn, affecting the running game as well. While Parker has not done himself many favors lately, other backs are having a hard time breaking in to the second level because the defenders are loading the box. MT will have to mix things up with different packages and a more aggressive scheme, but Kilgore will have to do a better job with his throws or it will all be for naught. When he does take chances, it cannot be into double and triple coverages. If it is not there, he must check the ball down to avoid the turnovers while still getting the ball to his playmakers with some space in front of them. UNT has a formidable defense, so turnovers are bound to happen this week. Regardless, all eyes will be on Kilgore's performance this Saturday, but those eyes should also be on the play calls.



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