Middle Tennessee will gun for its first win of 2009 and its second straight win over Memphis when the Tigers visit Murfreesboro on Saturday. GoMiddle.com breaks down six game related items in the Tuesday Six Pack.
FOR STARTERS...: Middle Tennessee's struggles in the kicking game in the season opener at Clemson have been well documented. The Tigers returned a kickoff and a punt for touchdowns and had nearly 300 total return yards in the game. That led to an enormous advantage in starting field position for the Tigers. Clemson's average drive started at midfield, while MT's average starting point was its own 25 yard line. It's hard to beat anybody, much less a heavy favorite, when the opponent has a 25 yard advantage at the outset of every drive. The good news for the Blue Raiders is that they won't face a tandem of returners like Clemson's C.J. Spiller and Jacoby Ford the rest of the season, but in order to make it two wins in a row over Memphis, the Raiders will have to fare much better in the field position battle than they did in week one.
FROM WEEK ONE TO WEEK TWO: In the three years of the Rick Stockstill era at Middle Tennessee, there is an established pattern of immense improvement from week one to week two, particularly on offense. In Stockstill's four season openers with the Blue Raiders, MT has averaged 244 total yards and 13 points on offense. During his first three seasons, those numbers improved dramatically each year in the team's second game. In those three games, the Raiders have averaged 426 yards and 25 points, an improvement of nearly 200 yards per game and close to two touchdowns. If the same level of offensive improvement is on display against Memphis in week two this year, then MT will have a very good chance of getting into the win column.
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SIZING UP MEMPHIS: A fourth quarter onslaught by Ole Miss made the Tigers' 45-14 loss to the Rebels look a little worse than it really was. Memphis trailed 17-7 through three quarters thanks in large part to a quality defensive effort that forced three turnovers and frustrated Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead early. However, the Tigers were often their own worst enemy on offense. Memphis committed seven penalties, only converted 4-of-16 third down opportunities and managed just 284 total yards while committing three turnovers. The Tigers also failed to demonstrate any true big play ability. Memphis didn't have a single pass play of 20 yards or more and only had one running play of more than 20 yards. Defensively, the Tigers demonstrated the potential of causing problems in the offensive backfield. They recorded two sacks and 10 tackles for loss against Ole Miss.
HOME OPENER HISTORY: As Middle Tennessee begins its second decade at the 1-A (FBS) level of college football, the Blue Raiders hope to turn over a new leaf in home opener performance. MT is just 4-6 in home openers since 1999 and just 1-6 since 2001. The last home opener victory came in 2006 when the Raiders knocked off FIU 7-6. In last year's home opener, MT lost to Troy, 31-17.
REVISITING THE LIBERTY BOWL: These two teams last faced off in 2007 at Memphis when the Raiders rolled to a 21-7 victory behind a huge game from freshman quarterback Dwight Dasher. Dasher had 180 yards rushing and 230 yards passing in the win. He provided the final blow to Memphis on a 61 yard touchdown run late in the fourth quarter for the game's final points. MT controlled that game in every sense of the word. The Raiders outgained the Tigers 490-248 and limited Memphis to less than 100 yards rushing. Were it not for four Blue Raider turnovers, the game could have been more lopsided. None of that matters for the 2009 game, but coming off a season opener that was tough on the offense, it could do Dasher some good to look across the field at an opponent he has such positive memories of facing in the past.
TRUE FRESHMEN ON THE FIELD: Middle Tennessee played three true freshmen in the season opener according to the official participation chart from the Clemson game. Sammy Seamster, Tavarres Jefferson and Juno Prudhomm saw playing time at Death Valley. For comparison, MT played seven true freshmen in the 2008 season opener against Troy.