Middle Tennessee took out the frustrations of two straight losses in a 62-24 demolition of Western Kentucky on Saturday at Floyd Stadium.
A homecoming crowd saw the Blue Raider offense click on all cylinders for 646 total yards, including 229 rushing yards, while a swarming defense forced the hapless Hilltoppers into four turnovers.
Go inside the game with the GoMiddle.com postgame notebook.
Quarterback Dwight Dasher's doubters had resurfaced in the last two weeks after consecutive disappointing performances and a one quarter suspension served last week for missing a conditioning workout.
Any lingering doubts turned to cheers Saturday as Dasher played arguably his best game as a Blue Raider, as the junior threw for 355 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions, and ran for two more scores.
The fireworks began full force for MT in the second quarter as the Blue Raiders tallied 28 points to blow the game wide open before halftime.
The fun for MT started right away in the quarter as Dasher hit Chris McClover for the first of two touchdown hookups between them. The 23 yard strike put MT up 10-3 and they connected again from 34 yards out to make it 24-3 with 8:09 left in the quarter.
"(McClover) is a big target, so just the fact that I know he is big and fast makes me know that I can put the ball up and he'll go up there and make a play on it," Dasher said. "The corners were biting on a lot of things so I felt like we could take advantage of that and that's what we did."
It wasn't just an aerial assault for the Raiders on Saturday though. MT rushed for 229 yards, with a large majority of those yards coming from players besides Dasher.
"We simplified things offensively a litle bit because we turned the ball over so much (last week) and Dwight hasn't played as well the last two games," head coach Rick Stockstill said. "I think it helped. Our players did a great job up front. I don't think we gave up a sack with our first team. We ran the ball a little bit better with people other than Dwight and I thought that was critical."
The Raiders got a one yard touchdown run from D.D. Kyles and a huge 49 yard touchdown on a reverse play to freshman speedster Kenneth Gilstrap.
But the day ultimately belonged to Dasher, who dominated the tone of the game against an increasingly helpless Hilltopper defense.
"When you have a quarterback that is as dangerous with his feet as he is with his arm he is awful hard to defend," Stockstill said of Dasher. "He made some critical runs for us on scrambles, bought some time and hit a couple of receivers by buying time throwing the ball. He is a tough guy to defend because he is so dynamic with his feet. When he is fundamentally sound and goes through his fundamentals on his reads throwing the ball, he can do what he did today. Give our offensive line a lot of credit also because he did have a lot of time to go through his progressions."
Stockstill was adament that the breakout performance for his offense was the product of a "phenomenal week of practice", not just for Dasher but for the entire team.
For Dasher, the bad taste of his recent play fueled an unquenchable fire on the practice field during the week.
"I just kept that Mississippi State game on my mind and that made me practice harder and harder and that's what we've got to keep doing," he said.
Run defense shuts down Toppers
Western Kentucky's offense came into the game touting one of the better rushing attacks in the league, but the Hilltoppers found the going tough against a fast and physical Blue Raider defensive front.
MT held WKU to 100 rushing yards on 40 carries, an average of just 2.5 yards per carry.
WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes accounted for 36 of those yards on one scramble late in the first half when he broke free into the secondary.
Running back Bobby Rainey, who entered the game averaging more than 70 yards per game, finished with just 20.
"They were averaging more than four yards per carry coming in," MT linebacker Danny Carmichael said. "We played well against the run. I still think we gave up too many big plays ... but those mistakes were mental and we can fix that. We always play physical on defense and we can go back to work Monday and get the mental mistakes corrected."
Stockstill said the defense's stout effort against the run could be summed up in two words: passion and toughness.
"That's what we are here," he said. "We play with passion, enthusiasm, and toughness. That's what we are. When you see Middle Tennessee play I hope you see guys having fun and flying around with great effort and playing with their heart. We were relentless with our effort ... I thought our guys on defense really did a great job of stopping the run."
During one stretch in the second quarter, WKU failed to make a first down on four straight possessions.
It was the Blue Raider defense forcing all of those three-and-outs that opened the floodgates for the MT offense to put the game away early.
"The upside to (the three-and-outs) is that we gave the offense good field position," Carmichael said. "I feel like they had pretty good field position all game and our goal as a defense is to put them in good position to put it in the endzone and they did that pretty much every time."
The Raiders tallied five sacks and 14 tackles for loss in the game.
Turner lives the dream
Every walkon wide receiver dreams of having a day like MT receiver Harold Turner had Saturday against WKU. Few actually get to experience what the 5-foot-8, 161 pound redshirt freshman walkon experienced.
Turner caught two touchdown passes and had six receptions overall for 113 yards, and his 52 yard touchdown catch in the second quarter was the longest reception of the game for either team.
"I practiced hard during the week," Turner said. "As a team, everybody kept me going and my coaches kept me going. I got a few more reps than usual this week so I was preparing myself for this. I guess it just happened."
Turner caught Dasher's second touchdown pass of the game on a deep in route that he caught and turned up the field for a 52 yard touchdown that made the score 17-3 early in the second quarter.
The Georgia native may be a walkon, but he showed a burst of speed worthy of a scholarship on that catch.
"(I knew I was going to score) as soon as I caught it," he said. "When I looked up the field, all I saw was the endzone so I just ran and the next thing you know I was standing on the Blue Raider logo."
Turner and fellow walkon receiver Shane Blissard have each made big contributions this season, and Turner said the two of them are great friends because they share time on and off the field as both are concrete industry management majors.
Both Turner and Blissard know that being a walkon is often a thankless task, but the hours they put in are what prepares them to be ready to make an impact when their number is called.
"It's a lot of hard work," Turner said. "I try to put in the hard work when people are watching and I try to put in the hard work when people aren't watching."
A lot of people were watching on Saturday to see Turner reap the rewards.
Sophomore kicker Alan Gendreau broke his own school record by making another two field goals this week, extending his perfect start to this season by hitting his 10th straight attempt.
Gendreau kicked a 38 yarder in the first quarter to tie the game and kicked a 29 yarder on MT's opening series of the second half to make the score 34-10.
"Alan has been very consistent," Stockstill said. "He hit two today so he is 10 out of 10 this year. He's been very solid. He is very even keeled and is not rattled. He can miss 10 in a row in practice and you give him that evil look and it doesn't bother him. He is a very strong minded person and he is kicking with a lot of confidence. I am really proud of him, and he is getting good snaps all the time from Adam Wade and is getting a good hold from Patrick Honeycutt so there are a lot of people involved."