Each week, the Dime Package tries to take you inside Blue Raider football with a unique look at the upcoming game and opponent, the Sun Belt Conference, and interesting statistical nuggets.
This week's Dime Package breaks down some numbers from Middle Tennessee's quarterback duo in the past two games, compares this year's 2-5 start to last year's 2-5 start, takes a look at the key stat that may help the Blue Raiders pull a big upset this week, and much more.
1) COMPARING 2-5 STARTS-Through seven games, Middle Tennessee's record is identical to what it was at the same juncture a year ago. Are the teams similar though? Several indicators suggest not. This year's team is so far averaging just 18 points per game. Last year the Blue Raiders were averaging 23 points through seven games. The defense has overall gotten stingier. This year's team is surrendering about half a point less per game than at the same time last year, and 30 less yards per game which comes from the run defense giving up 30 less yards per game on the ground. MT's offense has been flipped upside down from a year ago. More than 40 percent of MT's offense through seven games last year came via the running game. This year, just 27 percent of offensive yards have come on the ground. The Blue Raiders had 12 rushing touchdowns at this time last year and have just five so far this year.
2) MISSISSIPPI STATE VS. THE SUN BELT- When Middle Tennessee makes the trip to Starkville this weekend, Mississippi State will be facing its first Sun Belt opponent since 2002. That year, the Bulldogs won a low scoring 11-8 game over Troy in Starkville.
3) FRIENDLY BULLDOGS- Mississippi State has had a difficult time protecting the ball this year, a fact that certainly troubles Bulldogs coach Sylvester Croom, who prides his program on being disciplined and fundamentally sound. Mississippi State ranks 92nd nationally in turnover margin and has turned the ball over 15 times total for the season. In their worst losses of the year, turnovers have been a key culprit for the Bulldogs. They were -2 in turnover margin in a 22-14 season opening loss to Louisiana Tech, -4 in a 38-7 loss at Georgia Tech, and -3 in a 34-3 loss at Tennessee last week.
4) SERIES HISTORY WITH MISSISSIPPI STATE-The two previous meetings between the Blue Raiders and Bulldogs have each been noteworthy in the MT history books. The 40-7 win claimed by Mississippi State on September 4th, 1999 was the first game of the 1-A era for the Blue Raiders. The next year, Mississippi State won a 61-35 shootout over a Blue Raider squad that finished the year 6-5. The 35 points for MT set a then school record for most points scored against a major conference opponent. In six previous games against major conference foes in 1999 and 2000, the Blue Raiders had not scored more than 27 points.
5) QB NUMBERS THE LAST TWO GAMES- MT has played a bit of a quarterback carousel in the last two games, a decision that has caused plenty of debate among the fan base. The key numbers from those two games? Joe Craddock has quarterbacked 73 plays that resulted in 290 yards (3.97 yards per play). Dwight Dasher has quarterbacked 66 plays that resulted in 227 yards (3.44 yards per play).
6) MISSISSIPPI STATE KEEPS IT ON THE GROUND- The Bulldogs like to try to base their entire offense around the running game and it shows in the statistics. Nearly 53 percent of Mississippi State's offensive plays this year have been running plays and the Bulldogs have held the ball for 31:18 per game. You can tell when Mississippi State has a game going its way when the ball rarely goes up in the air. In the Bulldogs' two wins this season, they have utilized a combined 96 running plays and just 49 passing plays.
7) BACK-TO-BACK BIG BOYS- This game marks MT's second consecutive game against a major conference opponent. This certainly isn't the first time in program history the Blue Raiders have played consecutive games against BCS foes. They did it in 1999 with consecutive trips to Mississippi State and Arizona and again in 2000 at Illinois and at Florida. In 2002 and 2003, MT played three consecutive games against Big Six schools. The Blue Raiders traveled to Alabama, Tennessee, and Kentucky in succession in 2002 and then to Georgia, Clemson, and Missouri the next year. In 2007, they faced back-to-back games against Louisville and LSU on the road and earlier this year went back-to-back with Maryland and Kentucky. The closest the program has ever come to winning the back end game of such a road trip came in 2003 when the Blue Raiders lost 41-40 in overtime at Missouri.
8) THE NET EFFECT- MT punter David DeFatta has enjoyed a fine season. His punting average stands right at 40 yards and he's pinned 10 punts inside the 20-yard line. But the Blue Raiders have been at a disadvantage in net punting for most of the year. DeFatta has outkicked his counterparts on the average this year, but MT is losing the net punting battle to opponents by 3.3 yards per punt. That totals to about 40 yards per game the Blue Raiders are losing due to net punting yards. The main culprit has been an inability to slow opponents' punt returns. Opponents are averaging more than 10 yards per punt return while the Blue Raiders average just 4.3 yards per punt return.
9) GENDREAU MOVING FORWARD- MT kicker Alan Gendreau had his second straight encouraging performance last week at Louisville. The freshman connected on a 42-yard field goal against the Cardinals to set a season and career long for himself. The kick itself wasn't very pretty, but it made it through the uprights and gave the Blue Raiders the lead in what was a tie game at the time. Gendreau is now 3-for-3 kicking field goals in the last two games with all three kicks coming from beyond 35 yards.
10) LOOKING FOR MORE NEGATIVES- Outside of forcing turnovers, there are few things defensive coordinators love more than forcing negative yardage plays. While the Blue Raider defense has overall better numbers so far this year compared to last year, it is still looking for a spark in the negative play category relative to last season's total. The defense is on pace to record 69.5 tackles for loss this season, which would trail last year's total of 78. Nationally, MT still ranks pretty well in the category. The Blue Raiders currently rank 57th in the NCAA in tackles for loss. They finished 2007 ranked 53rd in the category.